The French Dispatch movie poster

The French Dispatch

In theaters October 29, 2021

Directed by:

Starring: , , , , , ,

There is an audience for Wes Anderson films, and I’ll admit all day long it’s not me.

You have to imagine The French Dispatch (2021) as one of the glossy supplements we used to get in these daily home-delivered sheets of news and commentary called “newspapers” and every so often there would be a separate small magazine highlighting what we’re missing because we aren’t rich or cultured or fashionable. Lots of words, a handful of pictures, and exquisite storytelling that lets the magazine writers flex their MFAs.

The French Dispatch is set in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé (everyone chortle in Franch) as the foreign arts and culture supplement to the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun. On this day, the  writers gather together to compile the final edition of The French Dispatch, per the final wish of its recently late editor, Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray)

I really enjoyed the first two stories.  In The Cycling Reporter, Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) gives a travelogue retrospective on a day wandering the French town of Ennui-Sur-Blasé, home base for The French Dispatch, pointing out the architecture, the street life, the food, the people, etc. Fairly sure the marauding alter boys were my favorite callback. In a way, this one sets the stage for all of the stories and the framework for the supplement.

In the second story, The Concrete Masterpiece, J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) narrates a retrospective of Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro), an artist serving time in an asylum for murder. Using a prison guard (Léa Seydoux) as his muse and mouthwash as his drug of choice, he creates outsider impressionist art that can only be seen in one place, and at significant expense. The art world flutters around him and fortunes are made and lost by a man with nothing to lose who simply does not care.

The following stories are a bit longer and feel wordier, which is odd for an arts and culture magazine because that’s totally their jam.

Revisions to a Manifesto is by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) who infiltrates and follows the “Chessboard Revolution”, a student protest about who can sleep in which dormitories. Becoming romantically involved with its leader, Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) she risks her journalistic integrity by co-writing his manifesto. It was very French New Wave.

The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner is narrated by food journalist Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) on a talk show. Using his preternatural skill to recall every word he’s ever written, he tells his adventure to the Host, Liev Schreiber, about an exclusive invite to the police station to experience a rare and exquisite meal prepared by the auteur chef, Lt. Nescaffier (Stephen Park). They barely get past aperitives when a kidnapping breaks out and the ransom is Albert the Abacus (Willem Dafoe), underworld accountant. It’s complicated and longer than it has to be, but stylistically beautiful, and I could listen to Jeffrey Wright narrate the ingredients on a can of soda.

Wes Anderson is that clever friend we all have that is delightful in short bursts, and each of his four vignettes is delightful in its own way. However as one long movie, that clever veneer begins to wear thin, and no we’re not really interested in seeing one more dancing bear, thank you. The acting was strong and there wasn’t a single character I wasn’t interested in. The stories were told well enough, and they were compelling, but …

Oh, but…

It’s just so. much.

The visuals for The French Dispatch (2021) were incredible, the rotoscope animation, live actors posing as if photographs with practical effects mimicking thrown objects. It really was a marvel, and I absolutely don’t want to take anything away from Wes Anderson as a filmmaker, because his movies are filled with wonder and whimsy.

BUT

My whimsy bucket is shallow, and by story #3, I was ready to tap out.

I could appreciate the prose as dictated by the “journalists”. The flow and the cadence while all Wes Anderson had distinct characteristics of its authors. Herbsaint Sazerac was breezy yet descriptive, J.K.L. Berensen felt posh and condescending (as lots of art pieces do), the reporting of Lucinda Krementz was a frenetic staccato of frontline reporting, and Roebuck Wright peppered his story with character nuances and abstract irony. This is not a movie to find fault with because the acting is lousy or the color scheme is drab, or the story just doesn’t make sense.

The French Dispatch suffers from none of that.

It’s just a lot for someone, anyone looking for a quiet evening at the movies. This is a Wes Anderson movie for Wes Anderson fans and I’ve no doubt they’ll love it.

The French Dispatch (2021) is Rated R for swears, people dying, nudity, people getting slashed, people getting gassed, people getting shot, laundry-room sexy-times, people getting electrocuted, people getting poisoned, and lots of smoking. Don’t worry though, it’s really a light-hearted film.

Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

Comments

  1. I enjoyed this review very much, MontiLee. Personally, I have found that I love Wes Anderson and all of the kookiness. But I saw the poster for this and, strangely, thought – Oh no! Another Wes Anderson charmed-by-crazy-old-Europe flick.

    In their day, all of the Pink Panther films were superb, and immensely funny — but their appeal has waned with the decades; over time, a franchise’s USP becomes more prominent than its formerly full-fleshed features – and infatuation turns to comfortable familiarity. I’m afraid I expect the same for Wes if the businessmen continue to throw big budgets and expensive actors at him faster than he can dream.

    As for The Shining, I get King’s justified gripe: he was used; so was the hugely talented, powerfully committed Shelley Duvall; and Scatman Crothers, without whom the longest cinematic shaggy-dog story could not have been so grippingly told. But here’s the thing: each of those astounding actors committed to make vivify what was essentially — as with Jaws or Close Encounters (which I think inspired Poltergeist and, courtesy of Dreyfus, outclassed it) — a tired B-Movie plot; turning it into high cinematic art.

    (OF course there are creepy people who get off on sexist, racist, or narcissistic content (eg. Wolf of Wall Street) — as true today as it was when Nabakov thrilled Hollywood also courtesy of Kubrick. Kubrick draws our attention to ugly truths hiding in plain sight at the very surface of our western culture (even Shirley Temple’s fan-base had a seedy element; and Corey Feldman was campaigning almost single-handed about that dark side of the film industry, virtually ignored for decades before Me Too brought down Harvey Weinstein and some of his associates). He forces us to think about it. Afterwards — yeah — we begin to realise that this is not OK.

    How can hiding such things — wrapping ourselves in cotton wool; pretending life is all kindness and predators don’t exist — make true life bearable? The Victorians did try this in another protocol-bound era; reeling between two World Wars and a third Cold War, the artists of the C20th preoccupied themselves with tearing down the puritanical pretences of an imperial age. All of last century’s cinema must be viewed in historical context. I expect that goes for Birth of a Nation. I don’t know; I haven’t seen it, but I wouldn’t ban it. Goebbels saw Renoir’s La Grande Illusion, declared it one of the most powerful movies ever made, and instantly banned it from German consumption. I am glad that our society is not currently patrolled by censors.)

    Frankly, the last script I read which genuinely constrained itself within the bounds of college-grade “acceptability” was so rule-bound it vanished up its own arse.

    Anyway, I’m going to hunt down your dark and urban fantasy.

  2. Edit – para 3: “to make vivify” is a typo; it should read “to make vivid” — or even, “to make livid”. (I’m a green internet-technophobe who can’t work out how to edit his own posts.)

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