The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch

Directed by Wes Anderson

(2021, American Empirical Pictures/Indian Paintbrush/Studio Babelsberg)

What would the editor of ‘The French Dispatch,’ Arthur Howitzer, Jr. want his movie critic to write about the film, The French Dispatch?

This is the question I have been asking myself since screening the newest movie by director/avant garde artist, Wes Anderson. I believe he would want a fairly detailed piece on what the good folks of Liberty, Kansas would think of it.

Afterall, that is where ‘The French Dispatch” lives. A collection of articles from a team of ‘dispatch’ writers living in a small town in France whose stories are a part of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun.

The movie breaks its writers’ stories down into sections of the newspaper. For example, the first story is called, “The Cycling Reporter by Herbsaint Sazerac” played by Owen Wilson in which he goes around the fictional town of Ennui, describing for the reader (viewer) locations and residents. Other stories include articles by other “writers” played by Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright and the obituary section by the whole of the staff.

As most readers will know by now, Wes Anderson films have their very own unique aesthetic and style ranging from retro-chique to modern art. It is a most enjoyable experience to take in the imagery of an Anderson film. 

Further, it is always pleasurable to watch and listen to the pacing of an Anderson film with its rhythmic line readings by actors perfectly plucked by Anderson himself to deliver just the right tone of the picture he is trying to create.

Therein lies the rub in The French Dispatch. If you come too close to the picture you will see that none of the separate pieces work. Oh, they are beautiful, lovely, and exquisite to look at for sure but together (and sometimes apart) they just don’t succeed.

Beauty as is art is in the eye of the beholder. I dare say if I were to turn off the sound to this picture or for that matter, if I did not understand the language (see: English) I think I would have enjoyed it much more as I could simply look at the pretty pictures. However, with the sound on and even understanding the language, it is very hard to understand the story.

The style that Anderson is famous for has now overtaken the script here. In many scenes, the written lines fall over themselves as beautifully said words but not words that work together to make coherent sense. Additionally, one seems to have to be literally in the mind of Anderson to understand what he is even referring to by the second to last “article.”

I will be transparent in stating that this is the number one movie I was looking forward to most this season. I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, and other movies in the Wes Anderson filmography. For the first twenty minutes of the film, I loved every moment before it swiftly and disappointingly headed into theater of the absurd.

As a whole, this movie just doesn’t work. It is a backwards insult in that it wants you to believe that it is more important of a film than it is, achieving the very heights of faux intellectuality.

So, I am canceling my subscription to ‘The French Dispatch’ with my apologies to the good folks of Liberty, Kansas. Maybe they just needed a better editor.


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