The French Dispatch review: Wes Anderson loves The New Yorker and the New Wave

Wes Anderson’s carefully crafted omnibus story The French Dispatch presses his pursuit of charm to brand-new levels, however he has a hard time to make it more than a visual workout. His rotation through a bunch of remote reporters opens with a eulogy: Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Costs Murray), based upon The New Yorker creator Harold Ross, has actually passed away. A Midwesterner motivated by his vibrant journeys to France, Howitzer wished to send out the happenings of Ennui-sur-Blasé back to the corn fields of Kansas. So he established a flexible publication, The French Dispatch, as a supplement of The Night Sun.

The film doesn’t attend to how Howitzer passed away. Anderson just keeps in mind that he died at his desk, which his last desire was for the Dispatch to stop publication upon his death, with the last concern dedicated to his obituary. The remainder of the movie occurs prior to his passing, tracking how his subtle perky defense of his aberrant reporters and his blasé disposition assisted direct what stories made each concern. His preferred suggestions for his authors: “Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.”

The movie is divided into 5 different vignettes, each a reported column coming from a particular paper area, composed by among the reporters. As is frequently the case with anthology-style movies, some areas work much better than others. Anderson’s fondness for dry funny utilized to describe sorrow, the inner functions of inefficient individuals, and kids experiencing the loss of innocence pertains to the leading edge when again. And yet this is the director’s least absorbable work. It’s allegedly a love letter to the New Yorker of yore, however while The French Dispatch includes Anderson’s familiar visual design, it’s frequently a far-off omnibus that may appeal just to his most ardent fans.

Tilda Swinton, Lois Smith, Adrien Brody, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, and a crowd of others pack into a train car and stare into the camera in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch.

Picture: Searchlight Pictures

From the start of the movie, it’s challenging to square the psychological throughline. The very first story is composed by the travel author Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), a slapstick exposé notified by his cycling through the seedier locations of Apathy. The 2nd tale, “The Concrete Masterpiece,” sees a sent to prison sociopathic painter (Benicio del Toro) concerning the attention of a huckster and put behind bars art dealership (Adrien Brody). Léa Seydoux, playing a jail guard, is Del Toro’s muse. And Tilda Swinton’s J.K.L. Berensen is the press reporter. Neither of these stories are narratively striking. The amusement originates from the stars’ dedication to the bit — specifically Del Toro and Swinton, as 2 distinctive characters with little regard for how individuals view them.

Other stories stop working to land too: “Revisions To A Manifesto” sees press reporter Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) profiling rebelling trainees enforcing a transformation in Might of 1968. Dune star Timothée Chalamet, representing a Dylan-esque reprisal of his Woman Bird character, is the trainee leader, while Lyna Khoudri plays his antagonistic teenage opposition. Chalamet deals with the part straight-on, rendering his character with a forced self-confidence, a type of forecasted maturity that just serves to obscure his insecurities. Similarly, McDormand is contributing she’s presumed previously, with higher success: Her “stern adult trying to relate to the youth” character here doesn’t measure up to her function in Practically Famous.

When these stories do come alive, it’s due to Anderson’s familiar visual language. He relies on sharp, textured black and white, a cool-toned color palette (he seems to switch to color without reason), and animation. His compositions are always well-considered, but his depth of field is richer and denser than ever previously. He’s clearly composing odes to French New Wave standouts Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Renoir. The only portion of the frame not fully realized is Elisabeth Moss, undertaking a minor, thankless function as the Dispatch copyeditor. But on the topics of travel, food, art, and politics, Anderson has little to say beyond aping other literary styles.

These vignettes are fine facsimiles of intriguing New Yorker columns, however they aren’t interesting in themselves. They’re loquacious, self-effacing long-reads, which can be interpreted as an ode to journalism, a kind of voice-specific reporting that’s seemingly been lost today. However Anderson isn’t wholly concerned with the journalists’ stark, quick-shifting perspectives. It’s noteworthy to consider how The French Dispatch opens. The film’s narrator, voiced by Anjelica Huston, explains how the paper’s sensibilities reflect its founder’s personal tastes.

Tilda Swinton, in an orange bouffant and blaze-orange layered dress, at a spotlighted podium in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

Photo: Searchlight Pictures

Anderson’s The French Dispatch isn’t merely a love letter to journalism, it’s a romanization of an ideal editor. A myriad of scenes find Howitzer parsing the copy for redundancy, sifting through the lines of prose to elucidate the heart of a piece. Though he protests the exorbitant expenses his writers pile up, their overruns on word count, and the way they turn in stories he didn’t initially assign, he never cuts a column. He finds a way to make his writers’ voices work in concert with his vision. With that logic in mind, every illustration we see has been picked to match his tastes, making for a double curation by both the character and Anderson. In a sense, he’s his film’s own editor-in-chief, wrangling together these disparate actors he’s come to dearly trust.

Maybe that’s why The French Dispatch’s final segment bears the film’s kindest heart. “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” follows Jeffrey Wright portraying a food critic with a photographic memory of every word he’s ever written. The character is appearing on a talk show hosted by Liev Schreiber, presumably long after Howitzer’s death. The writer recounts how he met the renowned chef Nescaffier (Stephen Park) while visiting a police commissioner (Mathieu Amalric) on the night a chauffeur (Edward Norton) kidnapped the commissioner’s son Gigi (Winston Ait Hellal). It’s a sweet tale because Wright’s character is the only one of the journalists who expresses gratitude toward Howitzer. His memorial is real, affecting, and without an overzealous aesthetic flourish, made possible by Wright’s detailed yet vulnerable performance.

The tenor Wright strikes leads perfectly to the film’s eulogizing end. Howitzer’s writers gather round to compose his obituary, in a tribute to their fallen leader. But there’s a lot of bifurcation in this movie (the artist’s double vision, Chalamet’s two lovers, etc.), and it’s mirrored in the doubling in this scene. Anderson’s trusted performers are, in a sense, writing a tribute to him, too, praising his vision and approach. It doesn’t seem like a purposeful choice Anderson made — if it was, he might have personalized this film sooner.

But considering the overflow of designs, themes, and tales, The French Dispatch might reveal more of its genuine charms on successive rewatches. On a single viewing, however, the film bears little fruit, at least not until the final 20 minutes, beyond seeing the director work his visual magic. For a work that moves to a deliberate beat, that may not be enough for non-Anderson acolytes. The French Dispatch is probably the worst film of the director’s career. However even his worst effort is worth biting the bullet for.

The French Dispatch premieres in theaters on Oct. 22, with a wider rollout Oct. 29.

Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri lean on opposite sides of an outdoor jukebox (that’s a thing?), facing away from each other in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch.

Picture: Searchlight Pictures

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.