Atle Antonsen and director Arild Fröhlich are both best known for humour in film and on television. The two have worked together before, most famously in the Doctor Proctor films. This time they take on a more serious project, and Grand Hotel is a melancholic drama with some comedic elements thrown into the mix.
Antonsen stars as Axel Farstad, an alcoholic with a failing liver and a longing to go back to what he used to be. Previously a successful author with bestselling novels, he has let his emotions overpower him, and is now looking for a kind of comeback. After his doctor tells him his liver is about to kill him, Antonsen heads back to the place where he previously wrote all his novels – the Grand Hotel in Oslo – the place where he also believes is the only spot he can write. Also at the hotel is a ten-year-old boy named Noah (Håkon Bøhmer), whose Tourettes syndrome has caused him to spend a social outcast. He spends his time after school at the Grand Hotel, where his mother works as a receptionist. He immediately takes to Axel, and after Axel’s credit card bounces, he makes a deal with the mother that he will babysit Noah in return for keeping it secret. And so, the film plays out with Axel and Noah bonding, fighting, and working through life together.
The film is packed with very conventional clichés, and this forms the backbone of Grand Hotel. We have the unsuccessful drunken author, the longing to go back to the hey days, the social isolation, the social awkwardness, and the longing for a paternal role model. These clichéd plot devices make the majority of the film predictable to watch, and for a while, you believe it will be fairly uninspiring.
However, Grand Hotel is well controlled by its lead actors, and several unique moments make the film truly a pleasure to watch. Antonsen excels in the role of Axel, and while he is normally more known for his comedic roles, this serious turn plays in his favour. Håkon deserves a lot of praise for his role as Noah – in particular how he shows it is possible not to annoy a crowd with a ten-year-old boy with ADHD and Tourettes in the starring role.
Grand Hotel has its charming moments and the strong cast works to the films favours. It’s a shame that it is only long into the film that Grand Hotel shows its true qualities.