Of any filmmaker working today, there are few whose films are as easily recognizable as Wes Anderson’s. His unique style of using vibrant sets, costumes, and color palettes creates inventive and surreal worlds that could only come from Anderson’s mind. Every shot in his movies, from the production to the angles to the stage directions, is meticulously planned out and detailed.
The French Dispatch, which stars Timothée Chalamet, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Benicio del Toro, and Adrien Brody (and a few surprises), is no exception to Anderson’s signature style. In fact, The French Dispatch might be his most stylistic movie yet, exceeding the likes of The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Rushmore.
Anderson uses his signature tools of animation, perfectly symmetrical shots, close–up zooms, clever dialogue, and eclectic characters to tell three stories. All three tales are loosely connected to an influential magazine called “The French Dispatch,” found in the fictional Ennui–sur–Blasé. Anderson has created his own “City of Lights” that goes between bold colors and black–and–white shots to evoke feelings of melancholy, nostalgia, and thrill. Arguably, Anderson makes live–action “animated movies”—films that are intricate, imaginative, and carefully crafted. Many animated movies, like Anderson’s films, are exaggerated to convey precise ideas that are both visually and thematically original.
The French Dispatch portrays all of these qualities.
As with all of Anderson’s movies, this one is whimsical and fantastical. Yet, unlike the rest of his catalog, it lacks any trace of a compelling storyline. What Anderson picks up in style, he drops in story.
The French Dispatch, paying homage to a New Yorker–type magazine, starts with an introduction, focuses on a few major features, and ends with a conclusion. In any magazine, not all stories are equally riveting, which is the case for this movie. The three features are: “The Concrete Masterpiece,” a tale of a tormented painter, “Revisions to a Manifesto,” a chronicle of a youth protest, and “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” a story on crime and food.
“Revisions to a Manifesto”—perhaps the most interesting of the features—showcases Lucinda Krementz, (Frances McDormand), who reports on a student protest led by the rebellious Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet). Chalamet, a new addition to Anderson’s ensemble of stellar actors, shines as the zealous Zeffirelli who spends all his time either smoking, playing chess, or writing his long–awaited manifesto.
It is delightful to see Chalamet fit so naturally into the ACU (Anderson Cinematic Universe). There is one striking scene in particular where he and his on–screen lover Juliette, played by Lyna Khoudri, are riding on a motorcycle as the background slowly changes to different shades of bold colors with French music trailing along—a perfect shot that captures all of Anderson’s talents.
While all three of the features are well–executed, each story is roughly only thirty minutes, leaving little time for satisfying payoff and character arcs. Each story is independent of one another, leaving the overall movie feeling like an anthology of disconnected narratives. One of the few consistent threads is just a joke about not crying. With no emotional through line, the quirky shots and witty one–liners remain the only beating soul of this movie.
If you’re interested in watching a masterful storyteller showcase all of his talents to an overbearing degree, one couldn’t recommend The French Dispatch enough. But if you’re interested in more than just eccentric and weird moments, then this latest issue of Anderson might be a tad underwhelming.