With The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson is back; and boy, is Anderson ever Andersoning. In fact, it might be the Andersoniest movie that’s ever Andersoned. But I think that’s the whole point of the movie. In the 25 years since his feature film debut, Bottle Rocket, Anderson has developed a stylistic reputation, so much so that if you see just a few shots from one of his movies, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to identify that it’s him. From the bright pastel colors, to the dry humor, the whimsical feeling, and the true depth underneath, Anderson surely has some specific hallmarks. And in The French Dispatch, he takes full advantage of the audience’s relationship with him and his films.
The French Dispatch tells the story of a fictional French newspaper, and the movie itself is structured as an issue of this paper. There are five different sections, each of which stands in for a newspaper story. First, there’s the obituary for the paper’s editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), followed by “The Cycling Reporter,” in which Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) gives details of the quaint little town called Ennui-sur-Blasé. Then comes “The Concrete Masterpiece” — a story about Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro), an artist whose talents aren’t discovered until his incarceration. “Revisions to a Manifesto” stars Timothée Chalamet as a student during a French Revolution and Frances McDormand as a journalist covering the students enacting the revolution, and “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” is Jeffrey Wright’s time to shine as his character, Roebuck Wright, recounts a story of a chaotic dinner he attended to Liev Schreiber’s television talk show host.
Yes, all of this makes for quite the variety in the overall tone and feel of the film, but in a way that only Anderson could orchestrate, it all works. The movie is smart, witty, and cutting at times, yet most of all, it’s meaningful. Anderson called it his love letter to journalists, though I see it as much more than that. It paints a beautiful picture of what reporting can uncover — the beauty, darkness, importance, mundanity, and conciseness of life — but it does so in a way that highlights his specific ability as a storyteller through film.
While I didn’t love all of the vignettes in this anthology, they each stood out from each other while remaining thematically and stylistically coherent. I’ll always enjoy watching Anderson flex his muscles, and he does so here. He doesn’t only use his symmetrical framing, miniature sets, and slapstick humor that we’ve come to know — now, he includes some abstract sets and even a fully animated sequence that has me wanting to see what he can do in that space.
But the section that easily stood out the most was “The Concrete Masterpiece,” which tells Moses’ story. It’s one of an incarcerated painter who catches the eye of an art dealer named Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody), who is also in prison, with his abstract painting of one of the prison guards (Léa Seydoux). A whole series of events leads to a second painting by Moses, who has now become world-renowned, but the response is disappointment in its quality, Here, Anderson is ultimately making a commentary on his own work and style. Sometimes the meaning of the piece and the reactions to it by other people don’t really matter as long as the creator got some sort of fulfillment out of it. Moses does, as does Anderson in making his highly stylized films, which a certain portion of his audience seems to be growing tired of. This was my favorite section first off, because of its engaging tone, and second, because of its idea that audience reactions don’t really matter when the person behind the art gets something out of the process of making it.
All in all, The French Dispatch has a lot to say and four of the five pieces had me thoroughly entertained. It’s not quite in his top tier of movies, but upon rewatches, it certainly could be on the cusp.