The Grand Budapest Hotel is a simply delightful film; I defy you to sit through it all the way without gradually breaking into a smile which will then stay on your face till the credits. Somehow Wes Anderson has the knack of making something utterly whimsical without slipping over the edge into nausea. He also seems to have the loved ones of half Hollywood locked in a - presumably just darling! - basement someplace, because his movies are so studded with star cameos that a grenade lobbed casually into the production cafeteria would more or less depopulate the Oscar ceremony.
Ralph Fiennes carries the whole show, miraculously making M. Gustave a heart-warming luvvie when everything about him ought to scream debauched scumbag. When Adrien Brody sends his heavies to schwack M. Gustave on the pretext that he’s a fiend who takes shameless advantage of lonely old rich people, he’s objectively completely in the right; just immeasurably less charming than Ralph. Backing M. Gustave up loyally is Zero Mustafa, played by a complete unknown except when he grows up and is played by F Murray Abraham. Amazingly enough, despite looking less like F Murray Abraham than I do, or even than Scarlett Johansen does, Tony Revolori has got enough charisma and native wit to be completely convincing as someone who is going to grow up to look and sound just like F Murray Abraham.
Fiennes has to overcome not only the immense problem of a character who’s one waffffer thin mint from a complete monster, but also the challenge of standing out against the background. The movie is, after all, not called the Adventures of M. Gustave, even though that’s what it turns out to be. It’s called The Grand Budapest Hotel, and from the get go, the set designs are in a battle to the death with the actors for the undivided admiration of the audience. And they are magnificently, loopily, determinedly ridiculous. The Hotel is a vast pink confection in the middle of nowhere, accessed by funicular railway - I immediately started to wonder how they handled food deliveries. It’s the most important set in the movie, but there’s also a dementedly vast prison, a schloss, and a mountain top observatory cum monastery cum Winter Olympics arena jostling for the eye candy prizes. The Winter Olympics arena gets the second best action scene, a goofy chase with skis and a sledge which ought to end in disaster and inevitably does. The best action scene is a chase and shoot out back at the hotel which is almost but quite the climax of the movie.
In reality, Mittel-Europa between the wars was as whimsical and cheery as a typhoid epidemic, but somehow Anderson manages to keep his light and fluffy tone while still giving you a sense of the menace and unaccountability that trundled around as minor-league fascism bubbled to the top in nearly every state between Germany and Russia.
Fun stuff; Saoirse Ronan is adorable, of course. Edward Norton is poised and intelligent as the last half way honest official left in Zubowka, and has a great moment riffing on Tommy Lee Jones’ iconic “every out house dog house …” speech from The Fugitive. Jude Law WILL look just like Tom Wilkinson when he grows up, and in the meantime was absolutely born to play useless, neurasthenic, pseudo intellectual tosspots. Jeff Goldblum - and I never thought I’d say this - was put on this earth to play possibly shady Central European lawyers, and should never do anything else again. The big shoot out reminded me of the preposterous shootout at the Guggenheim in The International but probably cost less than the catering for either movie.
And towering above it all, M. Gustave; pathetic, greedy, unscrupulous, neurotic and self-absorbed and somehow absolutely magnificent; not a hero despite himself, but someone who was a hero while still being an utter cad in his spare time.