Wes Anderson returns to fine, whimsical form with ‘Grand Budapest’

Some filmmakers become genres unto themselves. A “Wes Anderson movie” very quickly came to mean something specific, regardless of its definition as coming-of-age picture (“Rushmore”), Salingeresque family comedy (“The Royal Tenenbaums”), or animated kiddie fare (“Fantastic Mr. Fox”).

If you’ve absorbed the storybook Anderson style, you won’t find too many surprises in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” his eighth feature. But you will find a disciplined silliness — and even an occasional narrative shock — that vaults this movie beyond the overdeveloped whimsy that has affected Anderson’s work since “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”

By the time of its 1968 framing story, the Grand Budapest Hotel has been robbed of its gingerbread design by a Soviet (or some similarly aesthetically-challenged) occupier — the first of the film’s many comments on the importance of style.

A writer (Jude Law) gets the hotel’s story from its mysterious owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham, a lovely presence). Zero takes us back between world wars, when he (played now by Tony Revolori) began as a bellhop at the elegant establishment located in the mythical European country of Zubrowka.

Dominating this place is the worldly Monsieur Gustave, the fussy hotel manager (Ralph Fiennes, in absolutely glorious form), a man given to reciting poetry and dousing himself in a fruity cologne called “L’air du panache.”

The death of one of M. Gustave’s elderly ladyfriends (Tilda Swinton) leads to a wildly convoluted tale of a missing painting, resentful heirs, a prison break and murder. Along the way Zero meets a comely confectioner (Saoirse Ronan), allowing the writer-director to prove that a pastry shop is as ideal a Wes Anderson location as a continental hotel.

Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe play fascist villains, and Edward Norton is a fumbling policeman. Some of Anderson’s other regulars — Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson — flash by in cameos.

All are in service to a project so steeped in Anderson’s velvet-trimmed bric-a-brac we might not notice how rare a movie like this is: a comedy that doesn’t depend on a star turn or high concept, but is a throwback to the sophisticated (but slapstick-friendly) work of Ernst Lubitsch and other such classical directors.

In films like this, behavior and personal elan are the currency that matters, a triumph that outlives the unpleasantness of dictators and storm troopers — as evidenced by the way the aged Zero still speaks worshipfully about his natty mentor. In a delightful way, Wes Anderson is making the case for the value of his own moviemaking approach.

Yes, he spritzes “L’air du panache” over his work, but in this case the combination of playfulness and gravity makes “The Grand Budapest Hotel” linger in the air long after the film is over.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” 3½

Wes Anderson’s best film since “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a dizzy comedy look back at a once-great European hotel in its moment of 1930s glory, and the manager (Ralph Fiennes in glorious form) who left his impression on a young bellhop. An all-star cast and Anderson’s storybook style make this a memorable affair.

Rating: R, for language, violence, subject matter

Opening: Friday at the Guild 45th and Pacific Place.

More in Life

Beer of the Week: Scuttlebutt’s Night Circus

The Everett brewery’s head brewer had nightmares trying to dial in its new coffee and coconut ale.

Viognier: French white grape gaining foothold in Washington

Viognier, the noble white grape of the northern Rhône Valley of France,… Continue reading

Curries continues home-cooked Indian cuisine at new location

The restaurant, now located on Evergreen Way, also puts an Indian spin on Northwest cooking.

New documentary chronicles Obama’s last year in White House

“The Final Year” doesn’t paint the administration in rosy colors, but it isn’t too critical either.

‘Forever My Girl’ takes a page from the Nicholas Sparks genre

The film based on a novel by Heidi McLaughlin is a well-worn tale of lost love and redemption.

Christian Bale seems to channel Clint Eastwood in ‘Hostiles’

Bale plays a U.S. cavalry captain who escorts a dying Cheyenne chief to his tribal homeland.

A visit to the nursery helps put you in the mood to garden

Not ready to get back into gardening? January is still a fun time to poke around a garden center.

Plant of Merit: Hybrid oriental hellebores, Lenten rose

What: Oriental hybrid hellebores, with the common name Lenten rose, are a… Continue reading

International guitar tour led by Lulo Reinhardt stops in Edmonds

International Guitar Night, now in its 18th year, is Jan. 24 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.

Most Read