The Stream: Too stylized and fast-paced for its own good
The Big Screen: Great production design and full of sharp wit
The Final Bill: Wes Anderson is gonna Wes Anderson– Trip Fontaine
Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson (screenplay by); Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness & Jason Schwartzman (story by)
Stars: Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Benicio Del Toro, Tilda Swinton, & Jeffrey Wright
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rating: Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language
Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes
Production Companies: American Empirical Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, Studio Babelsberg, Searchlight Pictures
Platform: In Theaters
Trailers: The 355, Nightmare Alley, West Side Story
The French Dispatch is a new film from one of America’s most eccentric auteurs, Wes Anderson. It opened in limited theaters last weekend. If you have seen a Wes Anderson film, then you can guess what you are going to get from this one. There will be fast-paced dialogue, deadpan delivery, sets like a diorama, characters like cardboard cutouts and lines brimming with wry wit. Now, whether you actually like what Wes Anderson does will determine whether you will vibe with The French Dispatch. Here’s how it went for me.
Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray), the editor of the newspaper The French Dispatch, set out in his will that upon his death the publication of the newspaper will cease after one final issue. The movie, The French Dispatch, is the cinematic depiction of that final issue as the three main segments of the film are the articles from the paper. First, there is the story of the murderous and likely disturbed convict, Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro) who becomes a famous abstract painter when his artwork is discovered by a fellow inmate as told by Tilda Swinton. Second, there is the story of the youth protest gone awry as led by an impressionable revolutionary (Timothee Chalamet) told by Frances McDormand. Finally, there is a food journalism article that turns into the tale of a kidnapping caper as told by Jeffrey Wright. Each articles fits squarely into that Wes Anderson rhythm and aesthetic.
The cast here is sprawling. There are many of the Wes Anderson regulars: Murray, Swinton, McDormand. Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson make appearances as well. There are also great newcomers that pick up the affectation and run with it: Wright, del Toro, Chalamet, Lea Seydoux, Elizabeth Moss and Saoirse Ronan to name a few. They all have that deadpan delivery and the cadence of Wes Anderson dialogue that adds to the quirky vibe of it all. The ensemble works very well as a whole and bring life to this very strange and singular world. Moreover, the look of it all is so particular. There are the bright colors of the sets and even though there is artifice, it is visually arresting to look at, which is no surprise for a Wes Anderson movie.
Now, to be real, if you don’t like Wes Anderson movies, you will not like this film. It is steeped in his aesthetic and he’s not doing anything new with the material even if the conceit of it is quite clever. Every beat is just as you would expect it. The different segments have their high points including an animated car chase. For fans, you should be satisfied. For the uninitiated, The French Dispatch probably should not be your first foray into the wonderful world of Wes Anderson – start with The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, or Fantastic Mr. Fox – then circle back to this one.
Ultimately, for the Wes Anderson stans, this is a big box of popcorn and I hope you find it in a theater near you. All of what you might expect from a great Wes Anderson movie, you will get from The French Dispatch. In fact, you get three great stories in one cohesive cinematic universe. For the rest of you, I understand that Wes Anderson movies are an acquired taste, so tread lightly – The French Dispatch is probably a good Sunday afternoon stream with a handful of popcorn, then you can hit the eject button if it isn’t for you.