'The French Dispatch' review: Wes Anderson's idiosyncratic homage to journalism shines
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
The whimsical and idiosyncratic style of Wes Anderson has been debated since his first film and now, ten pictures later is unequivocally its own genre. All of the best and worst traits of the director are displayed in “The French Dispatch,” the most Wes Anderson-y movie to ever exist. It’s a brand that draws audiences whether they hate or love whatever peculiar sight gags and twee framing the director throws together. “The French Dispatch” doesn’t have the emotional hook of “Rushmore” or the family dynamic of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” but it does find the filmmaker pulling out all the stops and reaching new creative highs.
Utilizing a wide berth of elaborate puns, claymation and animated sequences, as well as ingenious storytelling mechanisms, Anderson made “The French Dispatch” as an homage to “The New Yorker,” a magazine known for its off-the-cuff editorial freedom that peaked from the late ‘60s into the early ‘70s. “The French Dispatch,” similar to a dense issue of “The New Yorker,” is stuffed with character, personality, and plenty of style. To try and explain the film, in essence, would be doing a disservice and create more confusion around a rather engaging anthology. It’s structure is looser compared to the director’s previous works, made-up of four episodes (including the framing device) as told by staff members of “The French Dispatch of Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun,” a miniscule outlet based in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé founded by editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr (Bill Murray) who has two mantras: “Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose,” and “No Crying.”
The first story in this sprawling collection centers around Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), a prolific artist currently serving a life sentence and caught in an estranged love affair with Simone (Lea Seydoux), his gorgeous muse who is also a guard at the prison. Adrien Brody chews up the screen playing Julian Cadazio, an art dealer who sees Rosenthaler’s genius as a way to get rich quick, promising his two financial backers/uncles (played by Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban) great reward. The results are often hilarious, if uneven as Anderson messes with the color juxtaposition and shifting aspect ratios to help propel the story.
The second episode (which, like all the sections, is narrated by the respective writer who pitched the story) gets caught in the middle of a 1968 student protest in Paris headlined by Timothee Chalamet’s stagnant and rebellious Zeffirelli and Frances McDormand’s Lucinda Kremetnz, the writer standing on the front lines trying not to assert herself too much into the narrative. The final episode serves as a profile on a legendary chief named Nescaffer (Steve Park) as told by Dispatch writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) which draws inspiration from the likes of James Baldwin who’s name is one of several that pop up during the closing credits.
Each of these narrative undertakings are infused with their own depth and notriority, and it’s a who’s-who of A-listers. In one sequence you can see Sariose Ronan playing a drugged-up prostitute alongside a bumbling Edward Norton and the next, Owen Wilson traversing a bicycle telling audiences the layout of Ennui-sur-Blasé. “The French Dispatch” will require multiple watches in order to pick apart the subtle references thrown in for those eagle eyed viewers (How about a nod to William Inge’s “Picnic”). But the most fun is watching Anderson tinker with his own vision and create a unique experience where the shape of objects and the symmetry of the frame are meticulously crafted. All of this underscored by composer Alexandre Desplat and populated with several of the director’s regulars-Jason Scwartzmen, Tilda Swinton, and Willem Dafoe-make for another solid entry in the expansive Anderson catalog.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH opens in theaters, nationwide, Friday, October 29th.