The “love letter to journalism” is slight, but overall enjoyable Wes Anderson flick
Intricate production design, a beautiful and whimsical score, quirky dialogue and characters and a distinct, magical directorial style are all common elements found in any Wes Anderson film. In The French Dispatch, Anderson does not stray from any of these elements. And, in case the viewer can’t already tell that they’re watching a Wes Anderson movie from the beginning, his cast of usual players are all here — Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand and Saoirse Ronan, just to name a few. What sets this film apart, ultimately, is its anthological style; the three parts of the film are all framed as individual stories within a larger publication to which the title refers.
“The French Dispatch” has been advertised as a love letter to journalism, but ironically seems to occasionally forget what makes a good story — a compelling, emotional core with characters to really care for and get invested in. Scenes that come close to heart-wrenching moments are layered deeply under hilarious comedy that we’ve seen in the amazing The Royal Tenenbaums and the fantastic The Grand Budapest Hotel, hitting the viewer when they least expect it. But for the most part, The French Dispatch feels like it lacks a true emotional center, and it’s structure is largely to blame for this disconnect.
This is a disappointing film, and one that could have improved with more succinct stories and segments — as the film is, the stories just feel like they overstay their welcome. Nevertheless, The French Dispatch absolutely still has a lot going for it, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Being immersed in the world that Wes Anderson has created here is nothing short of beautiful and astonishing. Similar to the playful French films of Jacques Tati and the effortlessly cool films of Jean-Luc Godard (from which Anderson has clearly drawn inspiration from), The French Dispatch creates a stunning experience where every frame has something new to notice. The switch between color and black-and-white cinematography is paired with a seemingly effortless ease of the camera as it moves, giving The French Dispatch a life that its stories often fall short of. Anderson’s usual pairing with composer Alexandre Desplat is just as wonderful as fans have come to expect, with Desplat’s score providing flares of magic and delight at all the right times. Every detail here is so carefully thought out, adding dimension and life to Anderson’s intricate, creative vision.
Any review of this film cannot be written without making note of the film’s brilliant cast — really, half of my review could just be spent listing the cast’s names. While many of the actors appear in very minor roles, which makes finding the best of the best hard to discern, the clear standout story is “Revisions to a Manifesto,” the second segment of the film. This section of the film follows the relationship between student leader Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) and an older writer named Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand). The story is set against the political backdrop of student protests and tension that culminates in a riot, providing the film’s most tense moment.
The brilliant Lyna Khoudri also stars as Juliette, another student who is against Zeffirelli’s values before eventually discovering a connection with him. Think enemies-to-lovers style. This story offers the film’s most rich subtext and themes, features its most uniquely entertaining characters and resonates the most emotionally. McDormand’s brilliant delivery of “I suppose I’m sad” upon meeting Chalamet’s character brilliantly sets the tone for what is to come.
Unfortunately, while the other two segments have their moments — in particular, “Concrete Masterpiece” stirs up some interesting ideas with its portrayal of a painter and his muse — the film does fall a bit flat by its end. The last story, “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” features an excellent Jeffrey Wright performance and a fun animated chase sequence, but otherwise leaves The French Dispatch on a meandering and uninteresting note.
While The French Dispatch falls short of some of Anderson’s best work, it still has enough of his delightful trademarks, unique visual style and a truly great cast to make the film worth a look. This isn’t a film that will likely be remembered in the overall scheme of Anderson’s filmography, but it’s still great to see a seasoned director who unabashedly loves what he is doing make a passion project.
Matt Minton is a first-year writing for film, TV and emerging media major who would give anything for a spot on Team Zissou. Art by Art Editor Adam Dee.