October 22nd, 2021
MOVIE: THE FRENCH DISPATCH
STARRING: OWEN WILSON, TIMOTHEE CHALAMET, ADRIEN BRODY, TILDA SWINTON, LEA SEYDOUX, FRANCES MCDORMAND, JEFFREY WRIGHT
DIRECTOR: WES ANDERSON
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The way Wes Anderson makes a movie is entirely his way. His vision, his tastes, the topics he is interested in, and the way he wants them to look. It’s all Wes Anderson and nobody can do what he has done, for if they did, it would undoubtedly look like plagiarism. From Rushmore, to The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and up to today with The French Dispatch, the director has never changed his approach. I believe we are all better off for it, not because all of his movies are winners, Anderson’s work is an acquired taste, but because cinema as a whole is better with him in it. Take any great artist, from Van Gogh, to Georgia O’Keeffe, or Salvador Dali, and what makes them great is that they made a style of their own. That’s Wes Anderson, who often makes meticulous feasts, with settings that look like living dioramas, a cast of actors that rotate in every film, and an attention to details that is unmatched. Anderson’s newest film- The French Dispatch is a dedication to journalists of the past, French New Wave cinema, and the power of storytelling, told in a vignette style- and yes, told in a classic Wes Anderson fashion. In short, The French Dispatch is a delightful cinematic rag.
The collection begins with a brief introduction by Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), the bicycle riding journalist, describing The French Dispatch, a publication that began in Kansas, led by fearless editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), became a way to bring a slice of the French lifestyle to America. Within the runtime, we’re told we will hear a story from the Obituary, the arts, politics, and closed with the cuisine portion in the upcoming edition. The screenplay is compiled by Anderson, with the stories co-written by Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman. The momentum takes a bit to get going with each narrative, conducted using various Wes Anderson styles, telling eclectic stories, and all of them consisting of an array of in-depth characters. When done in the Wes Anderson way, it’s hard to not appreciate a rich tribute to the printed word, and the various people that sent their stories to print.
The first part is about an artist by the name of Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), a man in prison for murder, given time and space to paint his images, specifically of prison guard Simone (Lea Seydoux). His work has been curated and his story is told by gallery presenter J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), about how Moses was able to impress fellow inmate Julian Cadazio (Adrien Brody), and when Cadazio was released from prison he returned to help make Rosenthaler’s art reach a wider audience to appreciate. The story proceeds to being a comedy of errors, with the curators being oblivious to the prisoners wrongdoings for the sake of blind adoration, and hitting a note of how audiences can overlook flaws for their own entertainment. It’s by far the segment that is the most like The Grand Budapest Hotel, which becomes a bit of a divide between the artist, his mentor, and his secret lover.
The second story, which is where the momentum starts to build, is a political romp, about a group of French bohemian college kids, part of a chess club, and led by a pencil thin mustache Zeffirelli (Timothee Chalamet). He is a young man who views himself as the leader of his own revolution, with the story being covered by Frances McDormand’s Lucinda Krementz, a stickler for ethics. As a journalist Lucinda likes to keep her distance in the story, and then proceedingly becomes the editor for Zeffirelli’s manifesto, which in part feels like a poke on how the writer can’t help but be involved with the charisma of a leader, but also balances in the middle of differing views between Zeffirelli and his own love interest Juliette (Lyna Khoudri). The balance between the front line political battles are shot in a crisp black & white, while any segment in a French cafe is in a bright mix of orange and red, creating a sense of the characters coming alive. In many respects, this segment feels like the Rushmore of the bunch, a younger man wanting to be a leader, having a desire to be beyond his years, and learning his lesson about what that responsibility means.
The final segment, easily the best, while also my favorite, is the food segment, which has the full Anderson steam behind it, while also presenting the often enigmatic Jeffrey Wright as a Hunter S. Thompson-like Roebuck Wright. He explains his life from the beginning, how he became connected with Howitzer Jr. in prison, how he eventually became a food critic, but also his own relationship with a parental figure impacted his own relationships in life. His research has brought him to a man known as The Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric) and his award winning chef Nescaffier (Steve Park). During an elegant meal, The Commissaire’s son is abducted by a ruthless criminal named The Chauffeur (Edward Norton). Needless to say, the night turns into one unforgettable, with a police stand-off, car chases, and all injected with Wes Anderson charm. When The French Dispatch transitions to an animated bit, it’s not out of left field, but perfectly placed to heighten the narrative experience. It’s safe to say that the stories all come to life.
It’s all one-hundred percent Wes Anderson. The opening shot is an example of how he makes his films, where a waiter quickly and deliberately places various condiments (labeled of course), drinks, shot glasses, a mug, a small vase with a flower, and a salt shaker on a tray. He walks from the lower level of a building, up the stairs like a Rube Goldberg set-piece, visually seen from the outside looking in, and eventually ending at Mr. Howitzer’s desk. It’s all a big metaphor for the time taken by Wes Anderson for his visions to come to life. Yet, by the end I wondered if Anderson saw himself in the role of the various journalists presenting a story or the editor of the paper making sure it all came together. He’s honestly both. He’s the best of both worlds. He’s the writer telling these stories in his own unique voice. He’s the editor-in-chief making sure this Wes Anderson edition has every detail checked. The French Dispatch is hot off the presses and I can’t wait for audiences to read all about it.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS THIS FRIDAY OCTOBER 22ND, 2021
3 1/2 STARS
Written by: Leo Brady