Martin Scorsese called him “the next Scorsese,” which seems like an odd way to frame a compliment to a younger director. It also misses the mark. After all, Wes Anderson stands out among contemporary filmmakers precisely because his work is so distinctive and instantly recognizable. For a prime example, check out his new comedy, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which hits theaters on March 7.
“Grand Budapest” packs plenty of star power — Bill Murray, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel and the list goes on — but don’t expect the sort of high-concept vehicle that’s easily condensed into a trailer. Fast-paced and intricately plotted, the movie leaps backward through time, via flashbacks within flashbacks, and lands in the fictional nation of Zubrowka during the prewar 1930s, when the Grand Budapest Hotel was a glorious mecca of lavish living and high melodrama. At center stage is M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a dandyish concierge who oozes Old World charm as he romances rich old ladies, one of whom (Tilda Swinton, under mounds of makeup) ends up dead. From there, the movie turns into a screwball whodunit, complete with a slalom chase through the Alps. As in “Cabaret,” the events set in the ’30s take place against a backdrop of looming fascism.
If this sounds over-the-top, that’s the point. There’s no guarantee that you’ll love it — Wes Anderson’s quirky deadpan humor and stylized art direction leave some moviegoers cold. Then again, they are hallmarks of an original artist (the kind that can’t be pinned down as the “next” anything), and “Grand Budapest” is his most ambitious work to date. —John Birmingham