There is no director like Wes Anderson. Nobody has his visual style, his tone, or his dialog. Nobody frames a shot like Anderson does or gets the performances from his actors as Anderson does. Watching an Anderson movie is watching something wholly unique from any other movie that is currently being made, like watching a film from Quentin Tarantino or a film from Pedro Almodovar.
Seeing a Wes Anderson movie once is never enough. He makes movies that are so layered and rich, you get something new out of it with every rewatch. You could get a laugh out of a line of dialog you might have missed the first time around or might notice something different in a performance or a set piece that hits you differently. But regardless of if you watch a Wes Anderson movie one time or ten times, you can always count on stunning visuals and unique stories, and a unique cast of characters.
The French Dispatch is Anderson’s tenth movie and it is equally Wes Anderson at his grandest and also something completely different from what we have seen from him in the past. Visually masterful, beautifully written with an all-star cast, The French Dispatch is an anthology film as only Anderson could make and it is one of his awe-inspiring films, though also one of his least emotional films as well.
The French Dispatch is a cinematic magazine run by Anderson. The film is an issue of “The French Dispatch Magazine”, a magazine that gets printed somewhere in France, yet is distributed in rural Midwest U.S.A. We follow the magazine’s editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray) as he is going through the latest issue and the pieces that will be in it from the magazine’s writers. The stories in this issue come from Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), a France street wanderer who talks to homeless people, hooligans, and prostitutes, J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) who is profiling an incarcerated artist (Benicio Del Toro), Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) who is profiling a young protester (Timothee Chalamet) and gets emotionally involved with him, and Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), who writes about unintentionally being in the middle of a kidnapping.
The anthology structure is a different approach for Anderson, yet one I don’t think fully works for him. The French Dispatch felt like Wes Anderson had five different ideas for movies yet couldn’t crack any of them as full theatrical movies. So rather than stew on one or two of them to fully complete the idea, he jammed all of them into one movie. Of course, this is only what the film felt like to me and not actually the process that Anderson went through for the film. Each piece is very different from one another in their tone and look yet are all fully feel like they came from the mind of Wes Anderson.
Being a fan of Anderson, watching what felt like five short films of his was rather enjoyable. Each story is very entertaining and perfectly crafted. My favorite was the second story, titled “The Concrete Masterpiece”, which felt like the story Anderson had the most grasp of and felt the most complete. Del Toro is outstanding in this part, as is Adrien Brody, who is becoming a go-to for any Anderson film. I also really liked the performance by Jeffrey Wright, which might be the best performance in the movie The dialog throughout is Anderson’s most intricate and dense, with long, detailed voiceover monologs that are soothing when read by actors like Jeffrey Wright and Tilda Swinton but are so detailed that trying to watch all the action and visuals
However, the stories didn’t come together emotionally, which made the film feel empty. Because you are only with the characters and the stories for such a limited amount of time, you don’t get a chance to really feel for any of them or connect with any of them. There is also a lot going on in every frame of every story, you aren’t fully interested in the characters. You are trying to listen to the dialog, watch the action, stare at the set pieces, all while trying to connect with these characters. It’s a big task and one that can’t be completed during one sitting.
But I have only seen the film once and, as I mentioned earlier, Anderson movies require multiple viewings. Luckily, each story of The French Dispatch is entertaining and filled with cinematic excellence that I will happily give this one a few rewatches. So for now, three stars for The French Dispatch, but this is an Anderson film I could see improving on more watches, like most Anderson movies.
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