Friday, December 3, 2021

The French Dispatch

Writer/director Wes Anderson's latest is a quirky ensemble piece set around the final issue of the fictional French Dispatch circular from the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun in which each of the magazine's stories, all taking place in and around the equally fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, are acted out for the audience. The reason for the final issue is the unexpected death of its editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray, who appears in flashbacks).

The film starts out strong with Owen Wilson's short piece on the town as a bicycling reporter followed by J.K.L. Berensen's (Tilda Swinton) more lengthy article about a murderer (Benicio Del Toro) finding artistic talent in prison with the help of one of the prison guards (an often nude Léa Seydoux) who becomes his muse. Both Del Toro and Sydoux are terrific here, and Adrien Brody adds some fun as a white-collar criminal who works to try and make money of the talented, but moody, artist.

Neither of the final two tales, nor the epilogue of the staff coming together to write up the editor's obituary (which want have been interesting to have seen expanded), reach the same heights. Frances McDormand loses her journalistic neutrality and gets deeply involved in a college revolution which includes Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri. It's here with the movie stalls a bit before moving on to Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) recounting one his most famous stories which started as an interview with a legendary police chef (Steve Park) at a private dinner with the Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric) of the Ennui Police but became about far more because of the kidnapping of the Commissaire's son (Winsen Ait Hellal) which eventually gets so crazy the story ends in animation.

In a quirky world where a Kansas newspaper would put out a French magazine, a police chief would have a famous chef preparing his meals, and a university revolution about mostly unclear minor inconveniences that could be solved by a chess tournament, Wes Anderson finds his home. Although all the stories aren't equally successful, all are distinctly Anderson. The production design is first rate as Anderson creates not one but multiple worlds here in homage to the journalistic profession (more than 125 sets were constructed for the film). And the movie is filled with familiar faces in both large and small roles including Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, and Jason Schwartzman (among others).

Based on his love for The New Yorker, with many of the characters and stories having at least some minimal real-life inspiration, Anderson of course offers his own slant to both characters and events while championing the ideals of journalism and those, like Murray's Arthur Howitzer, who support them. While neither his best nor least work, one could argue that The French Dispatch is in some ways the most Wes Anderson movie as its structure allows more freedom than any of his other films to date. It's a film that should please his fans as well as those looking for something a little different this holiday season.

Watch the trailer

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