We're in a world where mise-en-scène reigns.
An opening credit informs us that Anderson's film was "inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig," but the true inspiration here is the eye-popping, jaw-dropping production design of Adam Stockhausen, chiefly Stockahusen's execution of the titular retreat, a glorified doll house with an intricate floor plan and bright primary coloring, set in some vaguely European hillside hamlet in the 1930s. And all of it is supplemented by some masterly miniature work. It's gorgeous but it hurts the eyes.
Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel vies with Ralph Fiennes over exactly who or what is the star of Anderson's film. (It's the hotel, hands-down.)
Fiennes is the central actor of Anderson's virtually all-male cast here, which is also rather jaw-dropping - and it's up to each individual viewer to determine whether that’s “jaw-dropping” in a good way.
Most of Anderson's eight films (one of which is an animation) have been male dominated, particularly "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore" and "The Darjeeling Limited." Yes, Gwyenth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett had roles in "The Royal Tennebaums" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," respectively, but not much to do. Both films were about the guys. Frances McDormand was fairly unpleasant in "Moonrise Kingdom," as was Anjelica Huston in the three she made with Anderson. (Look them up.)
But Anderson's history did not prepare me for the male fantasia of "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which includes no fewer than 15 name-or-recognizable actors but no female characters of any consequence. The invaluable Tilda Swinton does a fabulous cameo bit in the film's first 10 minutes or so, and hot-young-thing Léa Seydoux has a thankless walk-on as a hotel maid. Saoirse Ronan's role as a calmly young baker with a curious, wholly unnecessary birth mark across the right side of her face is this film's idea of a female lead, I guess, but it isn't much of a role.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around Fiennes' sleazy Monsieur Gustave, the hotel's resident concierge and would-be dandy who is possibly gay but definitely fey. He claims, with much misplaced pride, to have slept with all the decrepit old dowagers who are regular patrons of the Grand Budapest, although he comes across as the sort who would find sex much too messy.
Anyway, the Swinton character, who is dispatched early on, leaves M. Gustave a much-coveted painting titled "Boy with Apple," much to the chagrin of one of her protofascist relatives (Adrien Brody) who hires a thug with bad teeth (Willem Dafoe) to retrieve the painting and do away with M. Gustave, but not necessarily in that order. It's a fairly dreary storyline and, frankly, the film loses what little appeal it has with a long, lumbering interlude involving M. Gustav's stint in prison and its aftermath.
I really missed that hotel!
Oh, and along for the ride is Zero Moustafa, the hotel's Lobby Boy (Tony Revolori, who wears a penciled-in mustache and a pillbox hat with “Lobby Boy” embroidered on it) and M. Gustav's protégé, willing to be corrupted.
Like Anderson's previous film, "Moonrise Kingdom," this one is annoyingly fussy but without the charm of its predecessor. I would like to think that he has reached his limit with "The Grand Budapest Hotel," but so long as lovelorn movie critics continue to fawn over every precious physical and visual detail, we can expect the next one to be... More. Of. The. Same.
Note in Passing: The cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman abets Anderson's vision and ambition here by filming the story in three different aspects, matched up to the three time periods that the movie covers.