It’s fitting that Wes Anderson finally made a film about a newspaper. His films, much like publishing a paper, pull all sorts of surprising directions together, creating a final product that melds together just perfectly. Everything is lined up just right and organized obsessively. His films practically have a “Directed by Wes Anderson” masthead at the top. It comes as no shock then, that Anderson’s latest work, “The French Dispatch,” fits into his style easily.
Wes Anderson, whose work includes “Rushmore,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” is known for his picturesque style, with his trademark static shots and elaborate framing making him one of the most distinctive filmmakers working today. “The French Dispatch” is no exception and feels right at home alongside his other work.
“The French Dispatch” is told in a series of vignettes, each representing a story being told for the titular newspaper. In between these vignettes, the story is framed with scenes of editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray) as he decides which stories to include in his paper. Each of the segments of the film are completely different. From the tale of an imprisoned artist (Benicio Del Toro) and his muse (Léa Seydoux) to a student protest led by a chess master (Timothée Chalamet) to reporter Roebuck Wright’s (Jeffrey Wright) perilous attempt at a food profile, “The French Dispatch” is full of unique characters and the surprising situations they find themselves in.
With Wes Anderson at the helm, it is no surprise that the visuals are the film’s most defining aspect. Every image in “The French Dispatch” is crafted with Anderson’s trademark precision. This is not one of Anderson’s stop-motion films, but it is shot with such specificity that it almost feels that way. Each new image is a little Rube Goldberg machine that falls just perfectly into place. This is true not just in the visuals, but in the story as all well. Each of the vignettes seem like they might be unrelated but each combine to form a surprisingly cohesive whole.
Anderson is the rare director that makes films in a way that calls attention to the artifice of the form, deliberately making unrealistic, striking images. He utilizes what makes filmmaking a unique art form and uses it to deliver something viewers could not see in any other place. This all makes it easy for the viewer to get swept up in the craft of the movie. For big fans of Wes Anderson, “The French Dispatch” is more of what made people fall in love with him in the first place.
If viewers aren’t big Anderson fans, however, this movie isn’t going to change their minds. His style is extraordinarily specific and very atypical compared to the average film. Another defining aspect of Wes Anderson is his quirky and exaggerated characters. If someone is looking for a realistic, nuanced character, they should look elsewhere. The characters in “The French Dispatch” are, pretty much without exception, hyperbolic caricatures with very specific personalities. It can be fun to watch these strange people and they can, at times, still deliver some truthful ideas. However, most of the time these characters, like the overall construction of the film, are over-the-top and unrealistically specific. This particular approach to characters is something that can be polarizing for viewers. It’s not necessarily good or bad, but it is something many viewers can take in a different way.
“The French Dispatch” is undoubtedly a commendable work. The film is worthy of plenty of respect for being such a unique, original vision in the modern age of dry cash grabs and lifeless sequels. While many viewers, such as myself, might not have Anderson’s style perfectly click with them, there is no denying his important place in today’s filmmaking landscape. Even the biggest Wes Anderson detractor must admit that without him, the world of film would have a hole that would be difficult to fill.
“The French Dispatch” is now playing in theaters.
By Ben Lindner