Movie Review: The French Dispatch

While it isn’t something I ever considered, the revelation that filmmaker Wes Anderson is a fan of The New Yorker doesn’t feel like a huge surprise. His particular brand of melancholic, artsy perfectionism feels of a piece with much of the fiction featured in that storied publication, and perhaps some of the nonfiction as well. And so it also isn’t particularly surprising that he would one day turn his attentions towards making a cinematic ode to the magazine, or that it would be quite good.

The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun was established many years prior in Ennui-sur-Blasé, France by Arthur Howitzer Jr. after taking a trip to the town. Left to his own devices by his newspaper baron father, he was able to turn the magazine into a shining beacon of literary excellence, consistently running pieces by the most renowned writers in the world. When he dies of a heart attack, it is revealed that in his will the publication must come to an end with one final issue. This film shows us the pieces contained within it as a series of short stories.

Anthology films can be wildly uneven, but with Anderson and company firmly at the helm of each of the vignettes, this one manages to be consistently good. The conceit of framing it as a single issue of a magazine works well and makes for one of the better wraparound stories ever used in one of these kinds of films. Every segment is filled with A-listers doing their best to deliver the deadpan drollery expected of an Anderson movie, with only a few faltering. Each of the stories blends the zany and the serious in the style the writer / director is known for, though with fewer flashes of pathos.

Another hallmark of a newer Anderson movie is a feeling that the production design is the real star of the show, and the work of frequent collaborator Adam Stockhausen feels especially so this time around. Every set is meticulously designed and shot (by Robert Yeoman, another Anderson regular), to the point that one could feasibly pause the movie at any point and wind up with an image suitable for framing. Other little flourishes, like switching a scene from black and white to color whenever a work of art is revealed or watching a character’s younger self literally “pass the baton” to his older self, add extra layers of depth that are often missing from modern cinema. It isn’t necessarily one of his absolute best works, but it’s still always entertaining and visually engaging, and goes to show that even when he’s just a little off his game, a Wes Anderson movie is still likely to be one of the best of the year it gets released in. ★★★★★

Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual references, and language.

★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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