"The French Dispatch" is a Wes Anderson film.
While that sounds obvious and direct, it actually says a lot about whether or not you are going to enjoy it or not. Fans of the eccentric filmmaker will experience pure bliss, as this film - frame-for-frame - is everything you might hope for. But unlike his last few films ("Isle of Dogs," "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Moonrise Kingdom") "The French Dispatch" feels superficial, and is purposely a narrative mess as it tries to honor the spirit of journalism. Instead, it's more of a glossy and colorful magazine you might casually browse through in a doctor's waiting room, devoid of any real substance.
Structured to play out as an anthology as opposed to a singular film, "The French Dispatch" begins by telling us that the editor of this fictitious rag, Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray), has suddenly died, and his last wishes were that his paper be shuttered immediately, only after publishing one final farewell issue. The last magazine features several different stories from the paper's past as well as an obituary. These stories unfold as if you were reading a pulp magazine from cover-to-cover, all taking place in the town of "Ennui."
The first stars Owen Wilson as a cyclist who tours the city and shows off how much has changed over the years. In "The Concrete Masterpiece," Benicio Del Toro is a convicted murderer who has become an artist, with a prison guard played by "No Time To Die" star Léa Seydoux. Adrian Brody, Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban show up as interested parties in the artist's body of work. "Revisions to a Manifesto" focuses on two young student protesters in the midst of a revolution, played by Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri, as well as a journalist, Frances McDormand, caught in the middle. Finally in "The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner," Jeffrey Wright waxes poetic to a TV host Liev Schreiber about his experiences at a private dinner where a police officer was poisoned.
Clearly Anderson is working with an all-star cast, all of whom buy into his unique vision. Each shot is meticulously framed and completely symmetric...Anderson is a master with framing shots like none other that has come before. He marches to his own creative drum, bouncing back-and-forth between black-and-white and color with no apparent reason other than his feeling that it best benefits that particular frame. There are his usual quick zoom ins-and-outs, or camera pans that always tend to reveal something that wasn't noticeable before. There is a quirky, odd-ball vibe and a fast-paced rhythm to the editing that can only be described as "Wes Anderson-like."
The film is a work of art from a visual perspective, and there are laughs to be had. But there is nothing below the surface and after a while, it feels like Anderson is just spinning his wheels. The stories - other than all being "Wes Anderson"-ed up - have no real through-line. And for a film that claims to be an ode to journalism, even each individual tale seems to skimp on story and character, instead relying on idiosyncratic charm and Anderson's own panache to get by.
The result is a film that looks shiny and interesting but holds no real weight. In the case of "The French Dispatch," you actually can read a book by its cover.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance.
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes.
Starring: Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Benicio Del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Steve Park, Mathieu Amalric, Lyna Khoudri.
Co-Written and Directed by Wes Anderson ("Isle of Dogs," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Rushmore").
"The French Dispatch" is in theaters on Friday, October 29th, 2021.
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