Luckily this movies theme and visual direction grabbed my attention...well mainly the visuals. The story begins with flashbacks within flashbacks as a young girl starts to read from a memoir written by the 'author' (Tom Wilkinson). The memoir recounts a tale about a trip he made to the Grand Budapest Hotel back in 1968, the younger version of the author played by Jude Law. The young author meets up with the aging hotel owner played by F. Murray Abraham and they discuss how he became the owner. This in turn leads to another flashback to 1932 as we see the young hotel owner as a lobby boy under the tutelage of the hotel concierge played by Ralph Fiennes.
The movie is basically a Germanic/eastern European wartime murder mystery split into five chapters. An wealthy elderly hotel guest dies and leaves Fiennes character (Gustave) a valuable painting much to the anger of her odious money grabbing relatives. It is then discovered the old woman has been murdered and Fiennes is a prime suspect. What follows from there is a madcap vintage slapstick of a black comedy as we tag along with Gustave and his lobby boy Zero as they attempt to evade dangerous relatives, soldiers and prison (long story short).
So as I said for me this movie grabbed my attention through its unique visual style which kinda reminded me of classic murder mysteries but in a very Germanic sense. You could maybe drawn comparisons to the comedy 'Clue'? visually at least...kinda. The actual hotel surrounding background and the funicular are a highly detailed models which are based on real locations in the Czech Republic (the hotel anyway). I adored these models because they simply looked fantastic, admittedly obvious models but that's the appeal...it looks like a model railway set. The cold snowy terrain and weather really gives this movie a warm cozy atmosphere, the cutesy models, highly decorative traditional interior sets (very continental) and characters that look like your old relations all combine to give this almost Christmas glow to the proceedings...or it could just be me.
This sumptuous visual flair is helped along by the colour scheme of certain sequences such as the hotel being a light shade of pink making it look like a large cake. The interiors are also bright and colourful as are the staff uniforms in that classic 30's style. The fact that young Zero's girlfriend also works at the local bakery making fluffy mouth-watering pastel coloured baked treats almost feels like Anderson is teasing us. On top of that the bakery van is also a deliciously looking light shade of pink making you literately think of nothing but pink icing marshmallows and cakes! Its tantamount to torture I tells ya!
On the flip side the fictional war aspect of the tale which is set in between the two great wars (1932) clearly looks and feels like WWI but it isn't...I don't think. Despite the whimsical vibe there are still beatings murder and oppression in some forms in the latter half of the movie, nothing hideous but enough to jolt you out of your cozy spot. I guess the real problem for me was the casting...yes that's right the casting. The movie is based around European aristocracy, puffed up rich continental types with fat moustaches that you'd normally see living currently in certain areas of north London. The issue is they are all played by very American actors and it doesn't really gel half the time.
Fiennes is easily the best thing going here and he fits his role perfectly with his own upper crust upbringing. His performance is both charming and amusing with his suave debonair persona as he greets and sucks up to the guests...then all of a sudden blammo!...he'll drop an F-bomb outta nowhere...brilliant! Kudos also to his sidekick played by Tony Revolori who looks just the ticket as the young alert lobby boy, dude looks like Penfold (Danger Mouse). There are various other decent performances throughout (too many cast members to mention) but its the odd characters played by Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson (basically the entire American cast) that just don't work. The only American that does slot in well is Dafoe as the assassin who basically looks like Count Orlok once again...so yes that fits into this era and region perfectly.
These characters are meant to be Europeans in a small landlocked alpine country...yet they have American accents! plus some of these stars don't really do a great job performance wise either. You do get the impression Anderson revels in collecting a large glittering ensemble cast that looks stunning on paper and the movie posters but don't necessarily fit the bill. Plus I also get the impression Anderson kinda likes to play dress up with these big stars and not worrying so much about their characters, after all this whole movie does tend to look like an illustrated children's book or an explosion from within a toy box (with layers of pink icing on top).
Essentially the story is about greed I guess, on the surface everything seems sweet and pleasant but dig down and really everybody is a bit of a shit and not to be trusted...including Gustave to a degree. I'm not even sure if I liked any of the characters really, I suppose the lobby boy is our (the viewers) most trusted ally. In the end the movie ends on a happy note or so you think, Anderson finally slaps you across the face as the very ending is actually quite sad and grim like some kind of children's fairytale. Its an odd one for sure, starts off like as a feel good flick...visually looking like everything is taking place within a snow globe, but slowly grinds you down until you feel like sobbing at the finale. I still can't really decide if I actually liked it or not, its certainly well made directed and crafted but its not what I thought it would be. I must give kudos to Anderson for his creation and storytelling (even though it all feels a tad ostentatious) but I still can't help but feel somewhat empty and emotionless towards it even though I really really wanted to love it.