Wes Anderson movies, such as 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, generally get on my nerves quickly, but I quite enjoyed almost all of this one.Granted, this movie about the concierge (Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave) at a pre-WWII Austrian luxury hotel is almost entirely made out of frosting — Viennese pastries and other desserts provide much of Anderson’s inspiration for his extravagant art direction. There really isn’t much else in the movie besides endless riffs on what the Austro-Hungarian Empire would have had the budget to look like if the unfortunate events of 1914-18 had not transpired. But, old-time Austria and Wes Anderson are made for each other. Anderson has the worldview of a talented, refined, wealthy, and spoiled 12-year-old boy, and for whatever reason Habsburgian styles are an excellent fit for him. Granted, the movie’s plot is just an excuse for Anderson to indulge his cinematic sweet tooth for all things visually mitteleuropäisch. As usual, Anderson mostly just squares up the camera head on like he’s making 2001. Anderson’s constant dead center framing of shots — And now look what I’ve dreamed up this time! — gives the impression of a child who must have been endlessly praised for his creativity. But in The Grand Budapest Hotel his imagination almost lives up to the smugness of his cinematography.
And the constant guest appearances by Anderson’s movie star friends, most of whom have discordantly American accents, start to get tiresome. (Is that Alan Arkin or Harvey Keitel as the con boss in the prison Monsieur Gustave gets sentenced to?)And, as in most Wes Anderson movies, there are remarkably few jokes. His movies always look like they are going to be extremely funny, but they almost never are, especially now that the careers of Anderson and his old college buddy, the genuinely amusing Owen Wilson, have diverged since their 1996 debut Bottle Rocket. Fortunately, all the guest appearances really work just as a setup for the final cameo, in which Wilson, with his Texan accent, steps in temporarily at concierge for Monsieur Gustave as Monsieur Chuck. The joke is more or less: “Now you may be thinking that I, Owen Wilson, don’t seem that culturally appropriate as the concierge of an Austrian hotel in 1932, and you may have a point; but, still, you gotta admit I would have been a great concierge and you would have given me a huge tip.”