It’s fitting, then, that the latest film from Wes Anderson features intrigue, romance and murder, and is set in an opulent hotel: The Grand Budapest. It’s disappointing, though, that Anderson has not taken advantage of the setting to try new things: he sticks rigidly to a formula that has served him well in the past, but serves this story poorly.
The film is beautiful but insubstantial, like spending two hours in a neatly-wrapped box of coconut macaroons. Ultimately, the daintily-confected, sugar-coated scenes conceal the bitter centre of a story about ageing, arrogance, decay, disease, weakness and greed.
The acting is impeccable. Ralph Fiennes owns the role of Monsieur Gustave, the hotel’s concierge and the film’s hero. His swearing is sublime. Tony Revolori is also a treat as a lovelorn hotel lobby boy named Zero. The supporting cast is mostly strong, with good performances from Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton and Adrien Brody. Yet the acting can’t hide the feeling of superfluous whimsy that pervades the production, dodging any opportunity for character development or emotional exploration.
It’s clear from interviews with Anderson that he created the story after he’d decided how he’d like the movie to feel. That shows: the plot is definitely a distant second to the style. And while that style is gorgeous, witty and fun, real life is messy, not manicured. The Grand Budapest Hotel is worth a passing glance, but you’re best not checking in.