Comedy Drama

Review: ‘The French Dispatch’ is an Eloquent Expression of Admiration for the Art of Print Journalism

October 21, 2021Ben MK

Who doesn't love a good anthology film? From horror movies like The Twilight Zone to romantic dramas like New York, I Love You, the format has been embraced by such critically acclaimed filmmakers as Steven Spielberg and Mira Nair. Now, it's Wes Anderson's turn — and in his tenth feature film, The French Dispatch, Anderson is putting his own unique twist on the sub-genre, with a collection of tales all set in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé.

The story begins in 1975, with the passing of magazine editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray). A staunch supporter of good journalism and the founder of The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun — a publication created in 1925 that now boasts a readership of over half a million people across 50 countries — Arthur not only served as the magazine's stalwart leader for the past half-decade, he was also a patriarchal figure to the eclectic members of his staff, which includes writers Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) and Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright). As per the terms of Arthur's will, however, The French Dispatch is to cease production upon his death. So, as a result, they've all gathered together one last time to write Arthur's obituary, as well as to assemble the magazine's farewell issue.

What follows are the stories from that issue — a quirky quartet of vignettes that paint a picture of Ennui as seen through the eyes of some of its most poetic and well-read inhabitants. Whether it's Herbsaint's bicycle tour through the town's sorted and sometimes seedy history, J.K.L.'s profile of a convicted murderer (Benicio Del Toro) whose works of modern art catch the eye of an enterprising art dealer (Adrien Brody), Lucinda's piece on a youth protest movement spearheaded by a zealous, somewhat confused student (Timothée Chalamet), or Roebuck's writeup on a dutiful police chef (Stephen Park) who nearly gave his life to rescue the kidnapped son of the police commissioner (Mathieu Amalric), moviegoers won't be left wanting for the narrative clichés, visual tropes and character stereotypes that have made Anderson's tales so delightfully distinctive.

Of course, the downside is that viewers who have grown weary of — or perhaps never cared at all for — Anderson's art nouveau aesthetic might be left thumbing their noses at the apparent pretentiousness of it all. From the long stretches of black-and-white scenes to the subtitled French dialogue and exceptionally droll humor, it all amounts to precious little for general audiences to gravitate towards. And for a movie that's essentially about a group of characters whose very mission is to bring arts and culture to the mainstream masses, it's this disconnect between the film's core theme and its storytelling approach that proves to be its biggest flaw.

Otherwise, The French Dispatch is Anderson's most jam-packed movie yet, combining the inner-workings drama of The Grand Budapest Hotel with the pseudo-workplace humor of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and the teen angst of Rushmore. First and foremost, though, it's a love letter to print journalism. And for anyone who holds the written word in high esteem, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more eloquent expression of admiration.

The French Dispatch releases October 22nd, 2021 from Searchlight Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 48 min.

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