Wes Anderson movies are a genre of their own at this point. Every shot he composes is uniquely his, and nobody else can seem to replicate his distinct style. Therefore, whenever Anderson is coming out with a new film, I, for one, am there. His new movie, THE FRENCH DISPATCH, may be one of his best yet, and contains some of the most enthralling, off-the-rails and beautiful storytelling of his career and of the year thus far. If Anderson was a new director and this were his first movie, he would be the clear winner for Best Director at the Oscars this year, but because he has established his style in the minds of critics and viewers alike, this is seen as a typical output. Whatever box one may try to put THE FRENCH DISPATCH under, it wildly succeeds as an ode to journalism and the art of storytelling itself. The movie never lost my attention despite being quite a lot of complex dialogue to digest in one sitting, and by the end I felt myself reluctant to leave the world this film had established.
The French Dispatch is the title of a small American magazine in France that covers world affairs and a wide array of subjects despite starting out as a branch from a different larger publication in Kansas. It contains an old-fashioned yet passionate editor (Bill Murray in his obligatory role in every Wes Anderson movie), a talented writing staff from all different backgrounds, and a knowledge of the fictional city of Ennui. The film does not follow one storyline, but rather three small stories and plenty more small asides, similar to how the structure of a magazine or similar publication may look. These stories are all completely different and bear no relation other than taking place in the town of Ennui, yet they all capture the essence of the importance of storytelling and journalism in capturing the adventure of life.
I’ll come out and say that part of my immense appreciation for Anderson’s movie is my well-established connection and appreciation for journalism, and many may not feel the same love for the disjointed structure. I can see people who are used to a typical story being overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown at them, but for me, THE FRENCH DISPATCH proves to be an immensely enjoyable thrill-ride from start to finish. Even the slower stories feel like a whirlwind of emotion and humor in a way that only Anderson can pull off. In concept, some of the stories may seem uninteresting, but as any good journalist does, Anderson structures and tells his narratives in such a way that every audience member will be on the edge of their seat by the end. While I’m not sure if I picked up every detail on my viewing due to the rapid-fire dialogue, I would not hesitate to travel right back to the town of Ennui and discover even more things I may have overlooked.
To say the acting is good in this movie is like saying the grass is green, especially since Anderson has cast every A-list star known to man to star in this film. Every other scene has some ridiculously famous actor appear (Hey, is that Edward Norton?)(Hey, is that Christoph Waltz?)(Hey, is that Elizabeth Moss?)(Hey, is that *insert actor name here*?), which would be distracting if they all weren’t so good in their roles. The highlights for me are numerous: Benicio Del Toro is fantastic as a mentally ill, incarcerated art genius; Adrien Brody is charismatic as the art dealer trying to profit from Del Toro’s art; Timothée Chalamet wins me over yet again as a stubbornly impassioned student protest leader; and Jeffrey Wright delivers the best performance in the movie as a struggling writer who finds meaning in food. Wright in particular is so excellent that he injects in the story an emotional depth that I did not expect, and also made me look back on the emotional potency of journalism in a different way. This is also due to Anderson’s excellent writing, in which he maintains his journalistic integrity of non-bias (“NO CRYING”) while also giving us glimpses of the emotion underneath it all.
Saying more about THE FRENCH DISPATCH would be pointless without telling you this: go in expecting a Wes Anderson-esque Wes Anderson movie with copious amounts of Wes Anderson thrown in for good measure. If that doesn’t sound like it’s for you, then don’t bother. If that means nothing to you, then I’d highly suggest watching some more of his films before this one (Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs, or Fantastic Mr. Fox are all great choices), because starting with THE FRENCH DISPATCH is like having your first concert be in the mosh pit for Slipknot — a bit overwhelming. However, if that description sounds like fun for you, it will be one of your favorite films of the year. THE FRENCH DISPATCH serves as one of the best odes to journalism I have ever laid eyes on, and is a movie that I predict will have great longevity as viewers continue to mine endless amounts of detail and meaning out of this meticulously crafted film.