Review: ‘The French Dispatch” Ranks Among Anderson’s Best

By Amy Daniels, Current Staff

After the release date was changed multiple times within a year, Wes Anderson finally released this fascinating film for us. 

“The French Dispatch” is easily Wes Anderson’s most unique movie and undeniably one of his best. The all-star cast includes Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalamet, Frances McDormand and more.

The plot is an incredible story about a magazine called The French Dispatch and its editor who recently passed. The story is both about the magazine and the articles in it, as well as the writers behind them. It’s in praise of journalists and each of the three main stories is inspired by real-life people.

There are three separate stories shown. The first is about an artist in prison, the second is about a student revolution, and the third is about a kidnapping. After doing some research, I learned that the first story is a homage to the art dealer Joseph Duveen. The story about student riots is inspired by Mavis Gallant and one of her articles about the May 1968 student protests. The last story is a homage to James Baldwin, a novelist.

Anderson has stated that his source of inspiration for this film is his love of The New Yorker. Baldwin and Gallant were both frequent contributors and Lord Duveen is notable for being the subject of a six-part article in the paper. In addition to the writers, most of the main characters are based on real people involved with the newspaper in some way.

To the surprise of no one, Anderson demonstrates complete aesthetic mastery here.

The three stories are each illustrated with Anderson’s signature visual flamboyance, mostly through fixed, individual shots, although occasionally the camera moves vertically or horizontally through extravagant backgrounds.

Each story has a distinctive visual style and tone. Scenes will switch between color, black and white, and even animation. I consider this to be one of Wes Anderson’s most experimental movies. Not only for the reasons just stated, but because there are shots in this film that are completely unlike anything else he’s done. There is a whole new feeling of emotion in many shots here, almost on the same level with a handful of my favorite shots throughout the rest of Anderson’s filmography.

The film has a sense of movement that I think is much greater than most of Anderson’s other work. It’s constantly moving from story to story but lets each moment breathe for as long as it needs. There are so many tender moments that even though there are dozens of characters, I still felt like I got to know each one.

While the visual style is amazing, it is even more amazing how large and accomplished the cast is. Most of the time, Anderson has a cast full of talented actors, but this movie was an entirely new level of impressive.

When I walked into the theater the first thing that caught my eye was a huge cardboard cutout of all of the characters in the movie. Looking at the list, there are 25+ actors that I recognize by name. It’s such a stunning cast, and even though there are roles that are on screen for less than a few minutes, Anderson still fills them with great actors. One example is Jason Schwartzman’s role as Hermes Jones, a cartoonist for the newspaper who only has a few lines. It is impossible to even pick a favorite performance, they were all so distinctive and well done.

As always, I really like how Anderson is constantly expanding his style and his vision with every new movie.  I predict that he will expand even more with his upcoming project “Asteroid City” which is scheduled for release sometime in 2022.

“The French Dispatch” is available on Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services. I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone, even if you’re not a fan of Wes Anderson or this style of movie.

(Images are official promotional material.)

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