The French Dispatch. A Review

Wes Anderson is back in theaters with The French Dispatch, his tenth feature film. It offers exactly what you might expect from a Wes Anderson film; boasting a visual style so tightly cultivated that it is instantly recognizable, but can sometimes end up feeling like a parody of itself. He refined this signature style long ago, and The French Dispatch is not the film to deviate the style.

The film features an all-star cast, including many of Anderson’s frequent collaborators, such as Owen Wilson playing a travel writer and Bill Murray playing the disgruntled editor of the newspaper from which the film derives its name. As with the rest of his repertoire, this film is full of eccentric characters and fantastical visuals, but unlike his previous films, The French Dispatch is an anthology.

It is presented as a series of four vignettes, all tied together as articles to be published in the paper, and all taking place in the fictional French town of Ennui. There is a short travel guide on the city of Ennui, the biography of an artistic genius locked in prison, a detailed account of a student uprising, and a restaurant review turned narration of a kidnapping case. We linger just long enough on each story to get an interesting snapshot of the characters, but not so long that they overstay their welcome. 

Before seeing this movie, you must keep in mind one thing: this is not a film that was created to please everyone. Fans of the director’s work will express excitement to see this new creation. Critics shouldn’t go in with hopes of being surprised. The film is a snappy 103 minutes, but sadly those who aren’t attracted to Anderson’s style of storytelling will end up feeling bored.

Personally, I was thoroughly invested when I saw it in theaters; my brother in the seat next to me was fast asleep halfway through the film’s runtime.

This movie is visually distinct when it comes to other films currently in theaters, but in comparison to Anderson’s earlier films it can feel repetitive. In the end, it all comes down to whether Anderson’s personal brand of whimsy is suitable to your tastes.

The French Dispatch is certainly nothing groundbreaking, but it is a delightful journey back into Wes Anderson’s unique world. Audiences are able to lose themselves in this fictionalized version of France, but the stories remain grounded in humanity. The film shies away from overt sentimentality, allowing it’s more poignant moments to shine.

One highlight is a brief exchange between a writer, Roebuck Wright, and the man he is profiling, a chef for the local police chief. They empathize over being foreigners in Ennui, both having come to make their living but feeling out of sync with the locals. Indeed, the entire staff for the newspaper are American expatriates in the French city, and the film is just as much about their experience as it is the subjects they write about. These writers are not objective onlookers, but rather a key component to their stories, the conduit through which the audience experiences their world.

Within their writings about the world around them, the authors more often than not reveal more about themselves and the human experience. The French Dispatch is an insightful look into what it means to communicate, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you immerse yourself in this unique world immediately. 

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