Wes Anderson's rollercoaster ride is full of textual gems – could it nab an Oscar?
About this time every year, studios ration out scripts from the awards season contenders. The hope? To sway the Academy's floating voters in order to secure a nomination. It serves as a reminder of the releases that popped off earlier this year and were soon buried by those that came later. Ever wonder why all the Oscar noms are for films unleashed no less than a month before the actual awards ceremony? There's an unspoken art to perfecting a film distributor's release calendar.
What's perhaps most interesting with this Q4 script drop is seeing how a screenwriter's vision has been translated (or garbled) for the big screen. More often than not they give a leg up on the director in terms of visualising a behemoth story arc – including actors' blocking, production design and other elements that a director hasn't even begun to consider. That is, however, most certainly not the case for Wes Anderson. Many worship at the altar of Anderson, and for all the right reasons. Anderson penned the script and dreamt up the story for this year's caper The Grand Budapest Hotel along with Hugo Guinness, a British illustrator and member of the "banking line" of the esteemed Guinness family. That could very well be the reason behind all its visual treats. But what of the writing? Let's lift the lid on the genius mind of Wes Anderson to see what odds The Grand Budapest Hotel has of nabbing a golden statue for screenwriting.
NOTICING THE NAIL VARNISH – COMEDIC TIMING
This first diatribe (below) was cut from the final version of the movie. While we can only speculate why, it could be due to pacing (read: it slowed things down). Wes Anderson is brilliant when it comes to pacing of comedic dialogue, and this film is the paragon of that brilliance. One aspect that is easy to take issue with in most films is how the delivery of dialogue can often seem unrealistic – one line follows the next like a swift slap in the face. Nobody talks like that! There is a whole genre of film concerned with hyper-realistic dialogue called mumblecore. The amounts of 'umms' and 'ahhs' peppering regular speech are more common than the colour yellow in a Wes Anderson flick. Anderson flipped the switch on naturalistic dialogue. Here, it's supernatural – fast and furious – which gives the already ludicrous characters an even sillier edge. Plus, it's super fun to act. Here, Anderson cut right to the chase and cut out Madame D.'s tear-filled aside, even though he found the time to describe M. Gustave H's "dazzling pink handkerchief". For now, we can only imagine this scene. Single tear.
It's not until page 16 where we meet the "immaculately dressed, eighty-year-old" Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). Arguably, this scene where M. Gustave H interrupts Madame D. to lambaste her "diabolical" nail varnish doesn't add a whole lot to the film's narrative. But let's take Home Alone, for example. Remember that bit where Kevin McCallister goes through Buzz's stuff, finds a picture of his girlfriend and goes, "Buzz, your girlfriend. Woof!" We cannot say for certain that Kevin's fat-girl comment added anything to the plot. It was just funny. It's often these LOLs aphorisms that give an otherwise straight-forward script a flavourful boost.
THE LOBBY BOY INTERVIEW – ATTENTION TO DETAIL
When M. Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) asks for Zero's (Tony Revolori) prior experience in this lobby boy interview clip (below), the comedic tone and character development start to take shape. You see that Zero is eager to please and you also soon find out that M. Gustave H is a complete bitch. He grows fond of Zero, but here his skepticism is front and centre. It's also hilarious (and interesting to note) how the bellboy Anatole's squeaky excuse for not fixing his hat – "The strap's busted!" – made the final cut. He's hardly got five seconds of screen time, yet here he is, fleshed out on the page. His quip serves to exhibit Gustave H's character, but it's hardly necessary in driving the plot forward. It most likely would have been axed had it been any other director. Or improvised on the day of shooting. Or not even included to begin with. It pays to pay attention to detail. Where most screenwriters might have stopped after noting the "criss-crossing group of people" busy-bodying in the lobby, Anderson goes on to describe what they're wearing or holding. He's got a plan.
THE COLD-COCK UPPER-CUT – DESCRIBING A FIGHT
You know the old saying, "it all comes out in the wash"? In screenplay talk, it all comes out in the fight scene. That is, how actions are described is tantamount to how it is acted, and a window in to the director's mind of how things should be visualised. "Dmitri cold-cocks M. Gustave an upper-cut to the jaw and drops him with one punch". Not only is this, again, another example of attention to detail, but this action line reads like a sportscaster's play-by-play. Its visual language – a "cold-cock upper-cut" is a world of difference from a fast jab. Now, Anderson may have had this in mind the whole time, and could easily have just told Adrien Brody on set how he wanted him to punch, but since he wrote it in the script, Brody probably had a lot more time to mull over his movements to make this scene one of the funniest fist fights in the film.
There is also a punny fruit/apple joke in there which I wish I had thought up.
THE FLUTTERING PAPER – POETIC PROWESS
It's in descriptions like these – ones that don't see the light of day – where you can tell a writer from an imposter. Anderson languishes on how Zero passes the paper to Agatha, which describes exactly how to find "Boy with Apple". Let me repeat that: he lays out, in great detail, how a piece of paper transfers hands. It flutters slowly downwards while her hands try and predict where it will land. How it really happened is at the very end of the clip below – much less poetic. I mean, it's hard to control how paper moves. But these short descriptions, built up with poetic language, prove both a) what a control freak Anderson is, and b) how he infuses romance in to even the simplest of actions.