The French Dispatch: Film Review

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

You generally know what you’re going to get with a Wes Anderson film – a picture that is fun, eccentric, well-written and full of all his usual suspects – and The French Dispatch ticks all those boxes.

Inspired by his love of The New Yorker, Anderson’s latest comedy is an anthology film depicting journalists from The French Dispatch magazine, the foreign bureau of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun based in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. It brings to life three of the magazine’s stories: The Concrete Masterpiece by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), about a prisoner named Moses (Benicio del Toro) who becomes a famous painter for his pieces inspired by his guard Simone (Lea Seydoux); Revisions to a Manifesto by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), who profiles a student revolutionary named Zefferelli (Timothee Chalamet), and The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), who recounts the time he got caught up in a kidnapping plot while having dinner with the police commissioner.

I liked the concept of the film and the way it was structured into magazine sections but I wasn’t blown away by any of the stories. They are fun and entertaining but they don’t really amount to much. I liked parts of each storyline but never the whole thing – the stories have lots of asides and tangents and they can be hard to follow at times as the narration and dialogue are generally spoken very quickly (an Anderson movie trademark). They often felt like a case of style over substance and rather shallow and lightweight.

Although I didn’t care for them very much, I must admit the stories were amusing and made me chuckle often, although I didn’t laugh out loud as regularly as other people in my screening. It is very well-written and there are some great comedic moments told with Anderson’s distinctive flair for absurdity and eccentricity. Some moments are just so silly and oddball! If you like the director’s sense of humour, you’ll get along with this just fine, but this isn’t the ideal entry film for Anderson newbies as it is peak Anderson and not quite as accessible to the masses.

The filmmaker is in his element stylistically – this film looks exactly as you would expect – and so in command of the technical visual flourishes, like switching from black and white to colour, switching from live-action to animation, moving walls during a scene to make it clear it’s a set and freezing busy action shots to make them appear like a very cool tableau. I loved the classic Anderson elements, like the costume and production design, the onscreen illustrations and chapter headings, and the snappy way the film was edited, often to comedic effect. Alexandre Desplat‘s jaunty score worked perfectly and really added to the silly, whimsical nature of the stories.

There is a ridiculously huge cast list in this and so many are returning Anderson players, such as Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, and Owen Wilson (loved his travel segment), besides those already mentioned. It speaks volumes how many huge actors he has assembled for this, with some of them just simply popping up for brief appearances, like Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan and Jason Schwartzman. My favourite performers were Wright, channelling James Baldwin; McDormand, I love her straight-talking nature, and Chalamet, who was a lot of fun.

Although the film was a bit too lightweight and bonkers for my tastes, I can’t deny that The French Dispatch was still a delightful watch.

In cinemas from Friday 22nd October

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Also, make sure you check out The French Dispatch exhibition in London!

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