[Screen It]


(2014) (Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori) (R)

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Comedy: A new lobby boy at a 1930s era luxurious hotel assists the concierge who's contending with the aftermath of receiving a priceless piece of art from one of his late clients.
It's 1985 and a writer (TOM WILKINSON) is recounting the moment nearly twenty years earlier when he (JUDE LAW) arrived at the one-time glamorous but now fading Grand Budapest Hotel situated in the Republic of Zubrowka. He ends up having dinner with the owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. MURRAY ABRAHAM), who tells the tale of how he came to run the place and become the richest man in all of Zubrowka.

His tale then rewinds back to 1932 when Zero (TONY REVOLORI) was the new lobby boy working for the meticulous and demanding M. Gustave (RALPH FIENNES). As the Grand Budapest Hotel's concierge, he not only keeps the hotel and staff in tiptop working order during a time of war, but also attends to every need of their clientele. That includes the bedroom desires of older and quite wealthy women such as Madame D. (TILDA SWINTON).

When she ends up dead back at her estate, Gustave learns from her attorney, Deputy Kovacs (JEFF GOLDBLUM), that he's inherited a priceless painting. That news doesn't sit well with her adult son, Dmitri (ADRIEN BRODY), who wants his steely enforcer, Jopling (WILLEM DAFOE), to make sure Gustave never gets it. But the concierge and Zero skip out with the painting and return to the hotel, unaware that Madame D.'s now missing butler, Serge X. (MATHIEU AMALRIC), has framed Gustave for her murder.

That eventually results in military police captain Henckels (EDWARD NORTON) capturing and imprisoning the concierge. But it's not long before Zero gets his bakery shop girlfriend, Agatha (SAORISE RONAN), to come up with a clever way of helping Gustave and fellow prisoner Ludwig (HARVEY KEITEL) escape from prison. From that point on, Gustave, with the aid of Zero, attempts to clear his name, all while trying to stay clear of the homicidal Jopling.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
A recent spate of TV commercials from a giant telecom company feature an adult seated with a bunch of young kids who answer his faux serious questions with what are cute, endearing and sometimes hilarious responses. It's borrowed from the old TV show/segment "Kids Say the Darndest Things" (first hosted by Art Linkletter and then Bill Cosby) and features bits such as a kid responding to a question about choosing a big pool or a small one. The boy asks, "Does the big pool have piranhas?" and then "Does it have a dinosaur that can turn into a robot and chop the water like a karate ninja?"

Based on being read bedtime stories and then absorbing tales through TV, videos and so on, most kids are raring to go with their own bouts of storytelling. Yet, save for the young geniuses among the bunch, the vast majority use the run-on approach and often throw in everything but the kitchen sink as evidenced above. It's cute and it's fun to see imaginations blasting away at full tilt. Yet, ask any parent and they'll tell you it can be a bit much at times as their kids machine gun their way through nonsensical stories that ultimately don't go anywhere.

While watching "The Grand Budapest Hotel," I sort of envisioned writer/director Wes Anderson as a great big kid going on such a jazzy storytelling riff as played out by his friends and playmates. Don't get me wrong. That's no slight on the director who's brought us the likes of "Rushmore" (co-written with Owen Wilson), "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (co-written with Noah Baumbach) and 2012's "Moonrise Kingdom" (co-written with Roman Coppola), all of which I enjoyed immensely.

I was certainly never bored by this four-level flashback tale that briefly starts somewhere near the present, quickly goes back to 1985 for some intro narration, spends a bit more time in 1968 with that same (albeit younger) writer character, and finally settles on its main time frame of 1932. And like many of Anderson's previous works, there's all sorts of creative direction and related production design, quirky characters and a storytelling approach that's different than nearly every other filmmaker on the planet (save for those copying Anderson's now near trademark style).

Even so, and while the filmmaker's diehard aficionados will likely eat up every little detail, nuance and quirk, that approach is starting to feel just a bit repetitive. And as this marks the first time Anderson is flying solo in the scriptwriting department, it sort of seems as if his filter (if any of his past co-scribes served that purpose) is now missing and thus the run-on storytelling approach runs with reckless abandon but never really amounts to much or gets anywhere.

After settling down on the eventual main time period (that's depicted on the screen in the very old-fashioned 1.33:1 -- or so -- film ratio rather than today's more modern 1.85 or 2.35 to 1 style), the story focuses on the very meticulous concierge (a fun and entirely game Ralph Fiennes) of the namesake establishment taking on the new lobby boy (Tony Revolori) as something of his protégé.

That role later segues into more of an accomplice when the man inherits a priceless piece of art from a former client (Tilda Swinton, decked out to appear ancient) and must deal with the fallout from that. Namely, that's the woman's adult son (Adrien Brody) who's none too happy about that bequeathment and thus sics his enforcer (Willem Dafoe) on the man, resulting in madcap chases, some black comedy style violence and more.

It's all zany, quirky, sometimes edgy and features the usual array of cameos from performers who've previously appeared in some of Anderson's films. Although, as mentioned before, it gives off hints of the "been that, seen it before" response to such material, the fact that it's so different from most of what Hollywood churns out means it's still a welcome respite from what's usually nothing more than unimaginative, rote or simply poorly made pabulum.

Good, but not the director's best work (although perhaps a second viewing might change my opinion -- one way or the other), it's fun to visit "The Grand Budapest Hotel." I just felt it could have been a briefer trip with less highlights and a little more substance. Even so, it's good enough to rate as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 20, 2014 / Posted March 14, 2014

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