The French Dispatch (of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun) (2021)
The French Dispatch (of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun) (2021)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: October 22nd, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Wes Anderson Actors: Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro, Lea Seydoux, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Owen Wilson, Liev Schreiber, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Lyna Khoudri, Stephen Park

 


 

T

he son of a newspaperman who founded the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray) carries on his family’s tradition with his beloved “The French Dispatch,” an American counterpart magazine in Ennui-sur-Blase, France. Employing the finest in expatriate writers, and giving them sizable latitude in executing their craft, Howitzer has assembled an eclectic mix of authors reporting a diverse array of human interest pieces over the course of 50 years. Upon his death, the paper closes, but the stories live on, including Herbsaint Sazerac’s (Owen Wilson) edgy expose on Ennui’s sundry denizens; J.K.L. Berensen’s (Tilda Swinton) biography of the brilliant but psychopathic painter Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro) and his source of inspiration, Simone (Lea Seydoux); Lucinda Krementz’ (Frances McDormand) coverage of angsty teens Zeffirelli (Timothee Chalamet) and Juliette (Lyna Khoudri) and their revolutionary youth movement; and Roebuck Wright’s (Jeffrey Wright) cuisine-infused, career-highlight retelling of the Commissaire’s (Mathieu Amalric) son’s kidnapping and the brave chef (Stephen Park) who aided in his rescue. “He was in a position of dire calorific depletion.”

Right from the opening shots, “The French Dispatch” offers up Escher-esque buildings, bright colors, and bold compositions arranged like paintings. It’s very obviously a Wes Anderson film. Additionally, the framing is flat, with everything precisely in view (sometimes unrealistically so), as action frequently takes place directly in the middle of the screen. Anderson’s visual style, while familiar, is nevertheless wondrous, demonstrating an unusual knack for organization, movement, and vividness; he’s certainly unlike any other filmmaker of his time.

The narration and dialogue are similarly presented in a singular fashion, with loquacious conversations and verbose descriptions populating nearly every interaction. There’s an earnestness in the deliveries, too, which heightens the extreme sarcasm and mockery; much of the content is serious on the outside, but wickedly whimsical just beneath the surface – a manner of incredible bizarreness that occasionally unleashes ludicrously rich observations and revelations. It’s rarely of the laugh-out-loud variety, but the wittiness is abundant and highbrow. “Surely there ought to be a double standard for this sort of predicament.”

Although the picture is ultimately a love letter to journalists (writers from The New Yorker were of specific inspiration), it’s assembled as an anthology, constructed from varying vignettes that represent typical articles from the titular publication, ranging from the arts to politics to food. It’s also a biography, most notably with a tortured painter and his gardienne muse, which analyzes the nature of art (“The desire must be created”) and the curators and patrons surrounding it; a travelogue, blithely detailing the quaint French setting of the magazine; and a brilliant satire of the ways in which journalists imbed themselves into misadventures to understand and embellish their stories. It also incorporates such curious, artistic inclusions as a television show, an auditorium presentation, a stage play, animation, split screens, and still images that aren’t actually still. It’s almost a documentary at times as well, chronicling the publisher and his staff in ever more absurdist ways.

Creativity and clever contrasts abound, from alliterative inspections punctuated by jarring cursing to poetic commentary about life and love; only in one of Anderson’s artistically wordy comedies can culinary considerations blend with a craven crime, a violent beheader invent a new art movement, and a student revolution reflect on the follies of journalistic neutrality. Yet despite the consistent entertainment value, highlighted by an absolutely massive ensemble cast of recognizable faces, the fractured narrative doesn’t personify differing styles of writing through its separate tales, nor does it tie them together with anything other than the notion that they’re from employees of The French Dispatch. Were it not for Anderson’s unmistakable imagery and cinematographic predilections, these yarns would have little in common. Plus, character development is sparse when it comes to the owner and Swinton’s Berensen (both of whom are largely comic relief), leaving only Wright’s food columnist as a character with a glimmer of an emotional connection. Many of the briefly seen supporting roles are so extraterrestrial in their behaviors that they can’t be viewed as anything beyond mere outrageous caricatures. Still, “The French Dispatch” is a terribly funny, intermittently tender, tremendously pleasant work.

– The Massie Twins

  • 7/10