An admirable celebration of journalism, The French Dispatch is a fascinating and rather frustrating entry in Wes Anderson’s career. All that is good and bad about this auteur’s style is here. This is a work that is exquisitely constructed, almost to the point where it now feels like the director’s intentions are to create a sort-of live action stop motion movie. There are a number of stand out moments here and a fine strand of wry humour to proceedings. But this is also Anderson’s most indulgent work to date. Leisurely paced and suffering from a lack of focus at times, this will test anyone who isn’t a fan of the style you’d expect form this creative. If you’ve ever not gelled with an Anderson this is one best to be avoided.
The French Dispatch is a fictional American publication that focuses on the city of Ennui-sur-Blasé. The film, of the same name, is an anthology of stories you would find in this magazine, wrapped around the company dealing with the loss of their founder and editor.
The individual segments are certainly diverse in subject, emulating the nature of the eponymous publication. Some work better then others and there was certainly one I would have gladly seen excavated from the piece (such is often the nature of a portmanteau).
The cast here are universally impressive, without a weak link in the mix. The likes of Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Léa Seydoux and Bill Murray all get moments to shine, but the standout is Jeffrey Wright, whose soulful turn allows an emotional resonance to break through this finally constructed veneer. Wright points towards a better, more complicated film that could have existed had Anderson been willing to take a few more risks.
There is fundamentally nothing to fault with the craft at the heart of The French Dispatch. Its visually gorgeous, often swapping from colour to black and white, and is an aurally sumptuous experience. Ample praise must go to the director’s regular collaborators with stellar work from Alexandre Desplat (composer), Robert D. Yeoman (cinematographer) and Adam Stockhausen (production designer). But really it feels like Anderson can do more then this film. As a viewer I felt he wasn’t being challenged here, just indulging himself. And that’s fine, his body of work allows this. It just means The French Dispatch is a rather minor affair and, for perhaps the first time, it feels like Anderson is in a sort-of creative stasis. And this dims the light that burns from his films. But not enough for me not to approach Anderson’s next with a degree of excitement.