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Film Review: ‘The French Dispatch’ (dir. Wes Anderson)

It may be called The French Dispatch, but this film is a Russian doll of storytelling with its story-within-a-story-within-a-story structure. Compiling Wes Anderson’s distinct whimsy, timely humor, pristine production design, an all-star cast, and social commentary into one, the subject matter feels especially relevant and downright enjoyable.

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It may be called The French Dispatch, but this film is a Russian doll of storytelling with its story-within-a-story-within-a-story structure. You may or may not know it from the advertising, but Wes Anderson’s latest is actually an anthology film. As the introduction will promptly inform you, the film is composed of “an obituary, a travel guide, and three feature articles” pulled from a fictional magazine called The French Dispatch (loosely based on The New Yorker magazine). You are invited into the culmination of these pieces that create the magazine’s final issue by exploring the stories of each article, one by one.

Starring:
Bill Murray
Benicio Del Toro
Adrien Brody
Tilda Swinton
Léa Seydoux
Frances McDormand
Timothée Chalamet
Lyna Khoudri
Jeffrey Wright
Mathieu Amalric
Steve Park
Owen Wilson
Elisabeth Moss
Jason Schwartzman
Lois Smith
Henry Winkler
Bob Balaban
Edward Norton
Willem Dafoe
Saoirse Ronan
Tony Revolori
Alex Lawther
Toheeb Jimoh
Anjelica Huston
(yeah, this cast is massive and amazing)

With such an immense cast of characters, I think it is important that you know which actors share the screen together in specific iterations of the anthology. I’m sure several actors in this movie never saw one another because they never had any scenes together. In the first chapter, we meet the characters played by Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, and Fisher Stevens. The second installment features Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro, Léa Seydoux, Adrien Brody, Lois Smith, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, and Tony Revolori. The third segment stars Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Alex Lawther, and Toheeb Jimoh. The fourth stretch brings together Jeffrey Wright, Liev Schreiber, Steve Park, Mathieu Amalric, Winston Ait Hellal, Willem Dafoe, and Saoirse Ronan. Finally, the fifth and concluding section brings the writers together with Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens, and Jeffrey Wright all in attendance. It sounds like a lot (because it is), but I promise that it flows once it gets rolling.

If you already love Wes Anderson, then you’re going to love this film. But for those of you who don’t fancy yourself an avid fan of The Grand Budapest Hotel or The Royal Tenenbaums (number one, why not, but also), this could be the one to change your mind. Compiling his distinct whimsy, timely humor, pristine production design, an all-star cast, and social commentary into one, the subject matter feels especially relevant and downright enjoyable.

A cinematic joyride, The French Dispatch can be overwhelming at time if you try to focus on too many details at once. It begs for multiple viewings. The script moves at a rapid pace — typical of Anderson’s writing style — but this also works in favor of the acute humor and dry deliver that occupy certain scenes. The set is a vast landscape of immaculate detail and precision, which makes for a very satisfying viewing.

Some performances are outlandish and over-the-top (Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet), while others feel particularly candid and honest (Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Léa Seydoux, Bill Murray).

From a cinematography standpoint, few are doing it like Wes Anderson’s films. His films are arguably a blueprint for several of the projects coming out of the indie and teen sectors right now, and that influence can be seen across all forms of entertainment and popular culture.

Some might walk away from this thinking that there wasn’t a real rhyme or reason for including these stories together. However, the story lends itself to an anthology in that Anderson wrote this as a love letter to journalists and the people who have devoted their lives to writing about things and documenting the lives of others.

There are jokes thrown in here and there that certainly feel geared toward those of us that work in the press or have media jobs, but really any of this humor is applicable to anyone with a sense of creativity or who works in an environment dictated by the constant flow of innovation and the joys of working among a team.

I almost wish that the three stories were told in reverse order. Personally, I enjoyed the first more than the second and the second more than the third. To me, this had an adverse effect on the entire movie and made the first half seem slightly more interesting. Don’t get me wrong, though, the whole movie is a dream.

Alexander Desplat did some phenomenal work with this score. The subtleties that lie within it add so much to even the most minuscule moments of the movie. It almost feels like tiny sections of the one big song are pulled at various moments to accent the film, but that really worked here. He always delivers quality efforts, so no surprise there, but he did a job well done. 

Emphasizing the bright pops of color, juxtaposing that intensity by pairing it with black-and-white work, cohesion among the stylistic quality in font choice, tying in works of animation… all of these things work together in a way that really only Wes Anderson can pull of successfully. Another director would throw all these tricks in one bag at the same time and lose control of it all.

The French Dispatch is now playing in select theaters and will open everywhere Friday, October 29. 

One reply on “Film Review: ‘The French Dispatch’ (dir. Wes Anderson)”

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