The French Dispatch Pulls Out All The Stops And Gives Us Everything We Love About Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s new extravagant, artsy, whimsical anthology epic, The French Dispatch, is finally here for fans of Wes and indie films in general. I, like a lot of film lovers, was excited to add this flick near the top of my summer 2020 new release watchlist, until nearly everything was put on hold for over a year.

Now, after plenty of extra promo and the welcome return to traditional film releasing, movie viewers can experience and decide if The French Dispatch lives up to the generously built-up hype and expectations.

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As in typical Anderson fashion, his latest picture is set in an ambiguously fictional city in the 20th century. In this case, it’s the hip community of ‘Ennui’ in France in the 1960s, where four different stories are told from the perspective of a group of journalists back in Liberty, KS. 

The French Dispatch is the name of a local Kansas magazine centered on French culture, owned by Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray). Arthur lets his writers write whatever they want, as long as the articles aren’t boring or sloppy.

JKL Berenson (Tilda Swinton) is covering a story on an imprisoned artist, Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro), who’s been found guilty of murder and subsequently finds inspiration in female prison officer, Simone (Léa Seydoux). Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) is profiling her experience witnessing the college student revolutionaries in Ennui, primarily on youths Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) and Juliette (Lyna Khoudri). And Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) is the zine’s food journalist who somehow gets caught up in a kidnapping scheme involving the young son, Gigi (Winston Ait Hellal), of Ennui’s police force Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric).

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The French Dispatch has to be Anderson’s most star-studded, big-name cast to date. Besides new faces like Chalamet, Khoudri, Hellal, and Alex Lawther, it feels like nearly all of his usual actors make an appearance, including Murray, Seydoux, Swinton, McDormand, Amalric, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens and more.

The French Dispatch is spiritually and aesthetically most similar to the writer-director’s previous ensemble The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), but twice as elaborate and experimental as before, which is saying a lot considering how wonderfully fantastical Grand Budapest was. 

By now, Anderson is much like fellow directors Tim Burton or Quentin Tarantino; he has a distinct vision and a following who are accustomed to his style and tropes appreciatively. Based on the lukewarm 74% score on Rotten Tomatoes, I would have to guess casual viewers might be a little worn out on the Anderson schtick currently, especially with French Dispatch being so indulgent in its direction.

 
 
 
 
 
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That said, as a longtime, casual fan of Anderson, I didn’t mind how over-the-top everything on screen was. While the filmmaker is still considered a niche artist for the independent film market, long gone are the days of the modest production values of Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). It’s clear he’s enjoying taking as much advantage as he can creatively with his success, and more power to him if he’s having a good time while making quality art. 

In The French Dispatch alone we not only get an all-star international cast, but non-linear narrative, color, and B&W cinematography, voiceover, and fourth-wall-breaking narration, an animated sequence, montages, and a musical number by the end. If any of this sounds intriguing to you and you’re already familiar with Anderson’s schtick, then The French Dispatch will be right up your alley.

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Are you a fan of Wes Anderson movies? Are you planning on seeing The French Dispatch in theaters? Let us know in the comments!


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