“The French Dispatch” is the most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson film to ever exist, and it should come with a warning that reads: For Anderson Diehards Only. I cannot hide that I am a huge fan of the director’s work, so I tend to be more forgiving than most. But his latest teeters on the fresh / rotten line with a finished product that values style over substance, and any chance of a cohesive story is buried underneath an avalanche of whimsy.
The film features three distinct stories from different journalists at an American magazine in the 1960s. The articles all originate in a fictional French city, and each offer a unique perspective on art, politics, and food. The collection includes “The Concrete Masterpiece” (featuring Benicio Del Toro as a mentally disturbed abstract artist who paints his prison guard muse Léa Seydoux), “Revisions to a Manifesto” (with Frances McDormand as a reporter covering a student protest led by Timothée Chalamet), and “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” (a story of prison cuisine and kidnapping, with Jeffrey Wright turning in the film’s best performance as a food writer). None fit in a cohesive package, and Anderson forces the pieces together using the editor’s (Bill Murray) death (and the composition of a final farewell issue to honor his memory) as a contrived plot device. As a result, the film plays like a series of independent vignettes, making evident a noticeable contrast in quality. The film is smartly constructed where the best story is first, the weakest is second, and the most crowd-pleasing closes things down.
Art lovers celebrate Anderson’s geek chic visual style, which is in overdrive here. His carefully constructed whimsy creates a bounty of eccentricity that will either delight or irritate (sometimes both). The attention to detail and symmetrical composition is obsessive, with meticulously framed scenes that make every shot of the film tailor-made for a photography book that belongs on a hipster’s midcentury modern coffee table.
The script (by Anderson and frequent collaborator Roman Coppola) is sophisticated and witty in a way that readers of The New Yorker will adore (one example: the stories featured in the film are based in the fictional French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, which will prove hilarious to those who run in certain circles — or at least they’ll laugh the loudest, anyway).
It’s a very literary-minded, verbose, fanciful movie that is a sensory overload in every way possible. It’s talky and visually-intensive, making your brain work overtime just to keep up. I felt like I had to be on constant alert as my head and eyes were trying to process everything that was being thrown at me at lightning speed.
“The French Dispatch” is one of those films where you feel worn out by the end, but in a good way.