Ok, I like Wes Anderson films. You have to have a certain tolerance for whimsy, and bring a bit of goodwill so that his flights of fancy don’t infuriate, but his films have a certain quality of – and I can’t think of a better term – likeability to them. He creates a world that is like a luridly coloured, eccentric and slightly off-kilter reflection of our own in which it is enjoyable to spend a little time.
I can see, however, that if you don’t make that initial decision to go with them, his films could utterly alienate and repel.
So, to this one. Set in a hotel in a generic central/Eastern European country, the action takes place over three time periods. Opening in modern times, a writer (Tom Wilkinson) starts to recount how the story came to him. Then, in a communist-ruled 1960s period, his younger self (Jude Law) is staying in the now run-down hotel and encounters the proprietor, Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham), who now begins to recount his story*. This last period (in which the young Zero is now played by Tony Revolori) is where the bulk of the action takes place, as Zero recounts his 1930s education as a bell-boy at the Grand in its heyday, under the instruction of its concierge, Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), and their adventures and friendship as Gustave inherits a valuable painting from one of the elderly dowagers he beds (they visit the hotel specifically for his attentions). Trying to navigate both the enmity of her sinister family and the onset of war, the film has a few intimations of a darker sensibility than is usually evident in Anderson films, even amidst the whimsy.
Packed full of stars, many of whom are Anderson stalwarts (Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson and, of course, Bill Murray), and many of whom make only fleeting appearances, there is much fun to be had, though the inevitable ‘cartoon-style’ high speed chase sequence left me cold, as they always tend to do.
(*edit – I actually missed a level – the film opens with a girl putting a memento on the memorial to Tom Wilkinson’s author, now dead, while carrying a copy of one of his books and then cuts to his starting to tell his tale. This is a story within a story within a story withing a story!)