by Catie Robbins
Anderson’s hyperbolic characters deftly describe human life with as much attention to detail as realism, arriving at an ironic accuracy. The word accurate may be wildly out of place in talking Anderson, but it’s clear to each audience member whether performances are untenable or evoking emotional insight, and many artists would take the realism path to achieve the latter. Witnessed so frequently, Anderson’s insistence on hyperbolic design looks easy, but I’m curious about how he knew his characters would hit home all while reaching such excesses of human behavior.
This time it’s the story of a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) and his majestic mentor the concierge (Ralph Fiennes), set at the fictional Grand Budapest Hotel, wrapped up in a luscious palette of easter-egg colors and populated by ironically un self-aware characters played by actors who are 100 percent sure of themselves 100 percent of the time. Each character is smothered in Anderson’s immutable style, but we can’t even begrudge this constancy, as each character is legitimately distinct from each other. While actors’ decisions are slightly limited by the completeness of Anderson’s creative decisions, they fill in the characters like square pegs in square holes. Great casting is an omnipresent factor, but it’s the nature of these roles that brings them into fascinating performances.
Instead of characters they’re highly original caricatures, which should detract from their humanity but the opposite occurs.The film is hilarious but no amount of irony or absurdity lessens the characters’ realness. These are not caricatures as in political drawings that deform humans to their worst and so most memorable features, but rather caricatures that express fault lovingly. M. Gustave’s excessive personality faults are matched by his goodness at peak moments in the film, creating light wells for the audience to feel genuinely proud of humanity. Anderson’s caricatures are meant to be loved, soon after being necessarily laughed at.
The interplay of good traits and bad traits is something we see often in realistic films or dramas where we must question whether we can love the wrong-doers. All films may be about good and evil but films obsessing over the good and evil minutiae populating the human personality show why humans talk about good and evil at all. Here, we laugh at their faults and our ridiculing of them is juxtaposed with their sudden goodness in moments where we remember–isn’t this true? The good with the bad, all mixed up. The hyperbolic range of these moments heightens the emotional experience. It isn’t that hyperbole can be realistic, but deftly applied, hyperbole can be sensitive and used thus to portray details of human reality.
Along with a diorama of humanness, what we have here is a more specific celebration of the range of personality. Watching this film, we don’t only feel a love for being human, but more specifically a love of the plethora of strange and beautiful personalities which we can behold with much glamour and appreciation in the span of 100 minutes. Each strange and particular personality trait is made glamourous by this film.
Style can’t quite go unmentioned, but I hesitate to obsess over it as the greater beauty of this film. Unity makes it great art, but it doesn’t automatically make it a good film. This is a great film because of the characters’ humanity, and the fact that this, like other Anderson films, is visual crack just added to the ocular pleasure of our time in the theater with these fine characters.