Plot Description: A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch”

From left, Elisabeth Moss, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Fisher Stevens, and Griffin Dunne.
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

There’s something about a room full of people that are all in on the joke a comedian is telling. That’s what the new film by Wes Anderson, The French Dispatch, feels like. Everyone in the theatre was aware of this inside joke, the chuckles to the off kilter humor ruminating about the dark with every scene.  But there was an air of silence as our main headliner, Wes, went a bit stale, missing the punch lines, as we sat in silence waiting, praying, for the next joke to hit so we could all breath a sigh of relief he wasn’t really bombing that bad.

This film, which is more a series of tiny films, is a stunning piece of cinema sort of glued together to create a movie. Centering around the stories that make up an issue of The French Dispatch, a fictional newspaper that is written in France and published in Kansas, Wes Anderson has created a world you just want to pack your record player and run away to. As a whole it is a disjointed Twilight Zone series of beautiful sets, dialogue that is so fast paced it feels noir, and a cavalcade of top notch actors it feels almost like an award show.

There’s 3 main stories centering around love, loss, war, painting, and the uprising of some grumpy teenagers (I’m not kidding). And there is a weird two minute little bike ride through the town, with Owen Wilson at the steering wheel, that acts like the appetizer you end up talking about more than the meal itself.

The first story, focused on a jailed painter, was probably my favorite out of the three tales. The other two, one with Jeffrey Wright as a man who goes to write one story and ends up in the middle of the police kidnapping and one with Frances McDormand writing about the uprising of a movement of angry teens (which is so hard to follow I wish I had a map) are good. They’re not great. There’s something missing. There’s something you don’t want to yawn about but you accidentally find your mouth opening, checking your watch for the time.

What sticks in every single frame of this film, regardless of what story you’re watching unfold, is the utter brilliance of the background, the sets, the ambiance and direction. Every scene feels like an immaculate stage play set, moving and shaping with the actors. There’s something about a Wes Anderson film that is hard to shake. He has a style that is unlike anyone. You know the minute Wes is at the helm of your film ship. Anderson has always had a way of creating mini living works of art that somehow become cult classic pieces we all wish we could hang up on our walls.

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The acting was superb. The sets were to die for. It had all the ingredients on the table. But this wasn’t a fully well rounded Wes Anderson meal. It’s like Wes tried to make a Wes Anderson movie. He went back and forth between color and black and white so many times it became more film school freshman than Fantastic Mr. Fox icon. There was a cartoon montage that felt like they hired Robert Smigel last minute to illustrate their story boards since they ran out of money to shoot the actual scenes. The dialogue, at times hilarious, was hard to follow. I found myself a bit lost through some moments. What did they just say? Why are we here? Who is that?

In the end I was left feeling like I had watched a series of small stories that felt like over stylized commercials. I wanted more. I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted more Bill Murray.

Regardless of the story itself, the film was well directed and made my eyes salivate with every set change. The French Dispatch was like a work of art in a museum. I could sit there and stare at that exquisite piece all day, but the plaque next to it with all the information itself doesn’t really make me feel the same way as looking at the painting. I don’t care about the details, I just like how I feel when I’m looking at the brush strokes.

My final thoughts?

The French Dispatch will fill the void for Wes Anderson fans everywhere, but will leave you wanting more. We love the headline, the feel of the paper in our hands, but the articles are nothing worth re-reading more than once.

Rating: C

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