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The Grand Budapest Hotel ***

Is it worth $10? Yes

In this cinematic age of copycats, rip-offs and blatant stealing, writer/director Wes Anderson remains a unique visionary. His films have the appearance of children’s books and his stories are simplistic, though the characters are often notably adult in terms of action and vocabulary. This style – which has been described as “quirky,” “colorful,” “pretentious,” and everything in between – allows visual flair to maintain viewer interest even if the story veers off track.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is another fine example of Anderson oeuvre. It takes three flashbacks before we get to the main storyline, that of a concierge named M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his adventures running the titular European hotel circa 1932. His travails include: Keeping the secrets of his hotel’s wealthy patrons; inheriting a large estate from frequent guest Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), then fighting her awful son (Adrien Brody) and his bodyguard (Willem Dafoe) to keep it; dealing with an unsure lawyer (Jeff Goldblum); a daring prison escape; and fending off untrusting Nazis (led by a character played by Edward Norton). Through it all a lobby boy named Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) is by Gustave’s side, learning the trade and loyally serving his master.

Gustave’s story is framed by an older Zero (F. Murray Abraham) telling the tales to an author (Jude Law), which itself is framed by the older author (Tom Wilkinson) discussing how he came to the story, which in turn is framed by a woman (Lea Seydoux) at the older author’s grave reading the book upon which everything is based. If you don’t follow that don’t worry – it all makes perfect sense on screen, even if none of this extra structure is necessary.

The screen looks as if it were dipped in cotton candy. Bright pinks, bold purple and other pronounced colors pervade the picture, all looking like a surreal children’s book that’s bursting with life. Special credit goes to cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman, production designer Adam Stockhausen and costume designer Milena Canonero for making this pulpy world come alive with such gusto.

In order for an Anderson film to work the cast has to be in on the joke and understand the tone, which is easier said than done given that the dialog is intentionally not realistic. Fiennes is a particular delight in the lead, ably capturing the zealousness, mannerisms and protective nature that someone in his position must possess to be successful. As for the rest of the cast, Brody sneers and snarls to great effect, Dafoe is chilling, Revolori is nicely wide-eyed and lost, and Anderson staple Bill Murray nicely swoops in to help at a necessary moment. Only Goldblum struggles, as he’s never quite able to get the pace or cadence just right.

Wes Anderson’s stories often have loose ends and don’t fill in all the gaps, so those flaws in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” are expected and forgivable, especially when everything else is such a treat.

Did you know?

Angela Lansbury was originally cast as Madame D., but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, which meant Swinton had to endure hours in the makeup chair in order to look older.