I would love to stay at Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Larger than life, costuming, characters delicious colors meander brilliantly through a vivid, wonderful world as envisioned by Anderson in this remarkable tale of a M. Gustave the hotel concierge and the lobby boy, Zero, who marvels at his every move and aids him in his adventures. Chilly weather and a SXSW screening line snaking around the block (and then some) leading into the Paramount Theatre couldn’t keep throngs away for an opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session with the almost always elusive Anderson himself. The packed house laughed and sighed at the antics of Gustave and Zero, as retold by an older Zero when asked how he acquired ownership of the impressive inn.
While we first meet the older man, the story revolves round the young Zero (Tony Revolori/F. Murray Abraham) who befriends M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) on his first day as a bellboy in the Grand Budapest, a famed European Hotel that catered to the wealthy between wars. Gustave, known for his impeccable service and for catering to the older female guests, takes young Zero under his tutelage and the pair’s adventures include some pretty wild shenanigans.
At the hands of a different director, The Grand Budapest Hotel might have been far more comic or perhaps even far sadder, but Anderson strikes the near perfect balance of wildly absurd and poignantly insightful. Through the theft of a valuable work of art to the battle for a family treasure, Gustave and Zero form a close bond that takes one to jail and the other on a rescue mission, but while the antics appear pretty zany and the cast of characters crazy, Anderson manages an underlying tone that touches on a more solemn theme.
Anderson’s tale looks like a candy store and his characters are absolutely delicious. Fiennes pleases on every level and he and Revolori carry this film. Fiennes flits and Revolori follows, zipping from scene to scene and Anderson’s sets are a marvel to see. The ensemble of familiar faces that fill the hotel – many clad with striking wardrobes and even more extraordinary moustaches – include Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman (who joined Anderson at the Q&A), Harvey Kietel, Adrian Brody, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum and others, stars as varied as the film’s imagery.
While I won’t go so far as to call this Anderson’s best film, I did find it one of his more fascinating overall. And seeing him on stage for an extended Q&A lead by Austin’s own Richard Linklater, made the time in line worth every moment of the more than two hours spent waiting and even the time sitting in the tiny, center seat I stuffed my claustrophobic self into. Like his films Anderson is indeed unique, and getting him is certainly a coup for festival director Janet Pierson. From his tan suit and striped tie to his candid and sometimes comic responses to Linklater and audience members’ questions, Anderson exudes individuality. He recalled his first Q&A ever, where not even a dozen attended the screening of his film Bottle Rocket, and because some of them left during end credits, they “risked outnumbering the audience.” Schwartzman, Linklater and yes, even Anderson seemed to have a delightful time – telling entertaining anecdotes, letting us in on little secrets and spouting jokes, some that worked, others that did not – and I am sure the audience did too.
I won’t soon forget the screening where I got to see Wes Anderson live and in person, made sweeter by a visit to the delectable Grand Budapest Hotel. Fans of Anderson have something new to talk about. I am actually surprised this wasn’t the opening night film, but then I am guessing Anderson doesn’t work on SXSW’s schedule, it worked around his. I am placing an A in my grade book for the evening and an A- for the movie.