The Reviews: The Grand Budapest Hotel

As of late, nostalgia has infected our culture be it on the Internet, television and even film. It has been a through-line through writer/director Wes Anderson’s filmography whether it’s Dignam trying to live out the heist movies of the 70s or Mr. Fox’s desire to live out his glory days. In his latest The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson takes his most head-on approach to the topic and it’s one of his most fun outings yet.

Grand Budapest Hotel

The film opens on a student leaving a set of keys on the grave of an author and begins reading the Author’s book, The Grand Budapest Hotel, the opening of which is narrated by the Author at the time he wrote it (Tom Wilkinson), remembering when he first heard the story at said hotel – played by Jude Law – from Mr. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) recounting the story when he was younger – played by Tony Revolori. These multiple levels of memory do an excellent job of setting up the very Wes Anderson-world that exists through the majority of the film in that the multiple levels of narration allow for the style to exist – whimsy and all. The only true reality that exists is the snowy cemetery at the very beginning and very end of the film. The rest is merely the students’ interpretation of the book.

The majority of the film focuses on the aforementioned Zero starting a career as lobby boy/apprentice to Gustave H. (Ralph Finnes), the concierge at the famous Grand Budapest Hotel. Gustave is known as being a socialite who wines and dines the wealthy elderly women – particularly the blondes – who frequent the hotel. One of his favorite guests, Madame D. – Tilda Swinton in some amazing make-up – passes away. She leaves the priceless fictional painting “Boy With Apple,” to Gustave leaving her relatives, particularly her son Dimitri (Adrian Brody) furious. Gustave and Zero steal the painting, leaving Gustave as a prime suspect for murdering his former lover.

The rest of the film is a caper comedy following Gustave and Zero as they run from the police, Dimitri and his private investigator (Willem Dafoe) and later the German Army. Just as the film is about nostalgia, the script draws inspiration from other heist comedies like The Pink Panther series and Marx Brothers films. Anderson’s past films, particularly Tenenbaums, show a longing for a lifestyle and upper-class that was very rare or never existed. This is one of the main complaints laid by his critics but here it exists pure fiction and while the flaws of that time are ignored with a few references to the racism of the tim in the impending Nazi reach for power, this is also the film where Anderson acknowledges the danger of nostalgia. When Law’s writer asks the older Moustafa if Gustave was one of the last relics of a forgotten time, Moustafa acknowledges that Gustave’s was already part of forgotten time, in his prime.

Speaking of Gustave, it should be noted that Finnes proves he should be a permanent addition to Anderson’s regulars just as Edward Norton – he’s back as a Chief Police Inspector Henckles – did in Moonrise Kingdom. He has the comedic timing and delivery that highlights Anderson’s strengths as a writer and director. One example that sticks out is in the way Finnes and Anderson implement a meticulous use of profanity in the dialogue. Finnes delivers them in the same proprietary fashion as all of his lines making them as funny as anything in the film.

Also new to Anderson’s cast is Revoli as Zero. His characters’ nervousness is new for Anderson who usually writes characters – particularly children and teenagers – as being confident beyond reality. While he fits into Anderson’s swift dialogue and blocking, Young Zero is one of the most human characters he’s written since Max Fischer in Rushmore. That growth from Anderson, even if its incremental, goes a long way in Anderson’s worlds that are often muddled in their aesthetic and humor. It’s the ambition to face nostalgia and venture into new territory that makes the film worth facing.

****/*****

The Recaps: About a Boy – “About a Godfather”

I was very hard on last week’s episode “About Total Exuberance,” saying this episode failed to expand on Will and Marcus’ relationship using material not in the film and no funny material to back it up. “About a Godfather” does the opposite and while the jokes only land slightly better than the previous outing, the episode finds dramatic resonance in expanding on a largely comic scene from the film.

About a Boy - Season 1

In the scene in question features Andy and his wife Laurie (Annie Mumolo) asking Will to serve as Godfather to their youngest. Will of course rejects the offer whole-heartedly. I had forgotten about this scene from the film and was happy to be reminded that there was more for Jason Katims and crew to mine. The scene is played much more seriously here. Rather than play it for laughs its more clearly rooted in Will being selfish rather than him thinking it’s a bad idea. Will’s selfishness continues later when he kidnaps Andy for their scheduled bowling night despite being needed at home.

Will takes Marcus instead in their only scene together which works to the episodes benefit. At this point, we have seen two episodes focused on the two of them, one worked and one didn’t so it’s nice to get a break from their time together. This scene also has one of the episodes two laugh-out-loud moments in where Marcus adopts Wills attitude of Andy “bailing” on bowling night. Though eventually Marcus and Fiona convince will to make things right with his friend.

Where the episode really shines is in the final sequence where Will babysits Andy’s kids while the parents have some “alone time,” (not what you might think). Apart from an excellent line in the unknown merits of using a baby bottle to drink beer, this sequence is played for pathos and has a genuinely sweet scene where Katims shows the strengths of his other shows.

I hope the show doesn’t shy away from the drama in the future just because it’s a half-hour comedy. The source material is more drama than comedy and if the show continues to embrace that, it will become one of the better on TV.

The Recaps: About A Boy – “About Total Exuberance”

“About Total Exuberance” is the worst-case scenario of the struggles of turning a drama into a comedy. Jason Katims successfully did the opposite with “Parenthood” but I can’t help but think that was due to getting more time to work with than if that show was a pure sit-com. We are only one episode past the very promising pilot so it is very easy for the show to pick up again but tonight doesn’t live up to that standard.

About a Boy S1E02

After Will and his evening guest discover that Marcus has been sneaking into his apartment through an old dumb waiter, Fiona convinces him to babysit while she goes off to a job interview. During their play date, Will’s best friend Andy, tells him that they’ve been invited to charity fundraiser hosted by Lil Jon. In an attempt to fill obligation and desire, Will brings Marcus to the party.

Once they go to said party, the episode exposes it’s main flaw – that Will is an asshole. A complete turnaround after the pilot would be well below the Katims standard but whereas there was little moments of redemption sprinkled over selfishness. All that is saved for the final three minutes when Will motivates Marcus to literally take the plunge for a chance at catharsis and when it’s revealed that Fiona got the job thanks to Will’s advice that lying would be better than the truth – though I think we can all agree that including a “sabbatical period” on resume isn’t a job-grabber. Fiona and Marcus’ cartoonish performance of “I’m Yours,” only added to the groans.

Rather than re-tell the story from the pilot – which i know is common for second episodes – it would be much more interesting for a faster approach to building their  relationship which is essential in a shortened eleven-episode season. Katims’ previous shows have successfully taken existing characters and made them much more compelling. They can’t all be first round picks. Hopefully it picks up from here.