With The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson has made arguably his most Wes Anderson-y film yet. An anthology film covering an eclectic range of stories told by different journalists working for the French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, Anderson’s latest is an exuberant and eccentric slice of offbeat fun. More of the same basically, which is both a blessing and a curse.
What’s best about The French Dispatch is its strikingly original and quirky structure, the film designed in the form of the latest, and final, edition of The French Dispatch complete with a contents page and page numbers. It seems odd and it certainly is, but it all fits together in a way that is gratifying. Beginning with an obituary for the magazine’s founder Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), the film segues into an amusing travelogue from Owen Wilson’s Herbsaint Sazerac detailing the fictional town that houses the magazine, Ennui-sur-Blasé, before diving into the three main ‘articles’ that furnish the bulk of the film.
The first of these, and my personal favourite, centres around Benicio del Toro’s Moses Rosenthaler, a prison inmate whose artwork, a series of modernist paintings of Léa Seydoux’s prison guard Simone’s nude body, catches the eye of Adrien Brody’s Julien Cadazio, an art dealer. Both a hilarious parody of the cluelessness of art dealers and an intriguing love story between an artist and his muse, this segment is packed with laughs and Anderson’s acerbic sense of fun.
However, the next segment, a story by Frances McDormand’s Lucinda Krementz on the May 68 student protests, is easily the film’s weakest. It’s all quite boring, lacking the effervescence of what came before, while the laughs are few and far between. There is little chemistry between its two principal players, McDormand and a relatively routine Timothee Chalamet, and to be honest, the whole section is quite unmemorable and stifles the energy gathered in the previous chapter.
The final act thankfully picks up the pace again, eventually. Initially slightly mundane and convoluted, our third and final ‘article’ sees Jeffrey Wright’s food writer Roebuck Wright recounting the story of a policeman’s kidnapped son and the chef at the heart of it all. Ending with a magnificent and farcical animated chase scene, this portion of the film has shades of The Grand Budapest Hotel in its playful homage to crime capers. In a short epilogue, the film comes full circle in a touching and satisfying way, as the magazine’s writers combine efforts to write the obituary seen at the start.
Ultimately, The French Dispatch, despite a middling middle chapter, is another light-hearted and ebullient entry into the Wes Anderson canon that is well worth a watch. However it’s far from his best work, the director is almost on autodrive with its symmetry obsessive cinematography and sense of humour all directly taken from the Wes Anderson handbook on filmmaking. But hey, that’s no bad thing.
This review was written by Oli Gamble, member of the thatfilmbloguk team, American and Canadian Studies student, and co-host of the thatfilmbloguk podcast.