Some films are just so uniquely delightful that discussing them at great length would be disastrous to their charm. Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is that kind of delightful. It’s like Lubitsch by way of Mack Sennett; it's like Wodehouse on champagne, with a painting called "Boy With Apple" in place of the Empress of Blandings. Seriously: think visual operetta.
The story is told like it’s one of those Arabian nights tales that contain other stories that contain other stories. (In other words, classic ring composition.) A modern young woman goes to a cemetery to read a book. We see the author writing the book. Then we see the young author living the experience that created the book, which is a story told to him by another man, a story that happened to that man in his youth. And that story (with occasional flashes of the older narrator speaking to the young author) is all about a man called Gustave H (played with stratospheric charm by Ralph Fiennes). Then, at the movie’s close, the levels are reversed: we go from the young author to the old author to the young woman in the cemetery finishing the book, which is the story we’ve just seen.
And reading that you’re probably thinking: “Oh dear—too complicated, too intellectual,” but it’s not, it’s a delicately crafted confection which may appear to be all icing and sweets, but there’s a darkness under the surface, a darkness which is not glossed over but taken in stride, the way darkness is always taken in stride when we remember it happening, even though it tripped us up and made us bleed when it actually happened. The story is a layer-cake of memory. Time has made the past a colorful place where style wins out over barbarity, and kindness and decency can win you the friendship of both criminals and police. Until it doesn’t.
And when I say a colorful place, I’m not kidding. This film is gorgeous to look at. The colors, the composition—the cinematography and the art direction—the integration of animation and reality—all of them are exquisite. And the color wheel here is so specific that I swear to God I spent half the movie grinning like a little kid because all I could think of was this:
So yeah: go see this film. You’ll kvell for two hours, you’ll gasp at least one of the cameos (guaranteed), and you’ll walk out into the cold cruel world with a nice warm glow on the inside and a nice warm smile on the outside.