The French Dispatch Review: Wes Anderson Constantly Outdoes Himself In His Love Letter To Journalism

The French Dispatch Review: Wes Anderson Constantly Outdoes Himself In His Love Letter To Journalism

Read Time:7 Minutes, 43 Seconds

It’s that time yet again: there is a new Wes Anderson film for people to see in theaters. Beginning its life as a musical set in post-World War II France, The French Dispatch is the most Wes Anderson film ever to exist. There’s his trademark oddball comedic timing, mixed with his need to tell the most human stories (even if they do sound a bit ridiculous when you talk about the moment-to-moment beats). This time around, Wes Anderson adds a new ingredient to his filmmaking stew that works so well: a genuine love and understanding for the art of journalism.

Some love Anderson’s formula to the point where you say his name, and that person has already bought a ticket to the opening night screening before you even mention what the film is about. Others might see Anderson’s eccentric filmmaking as one-note and that he is undeserving of the praise and accolades he’s received over the years. Add to that some journalistic jargon (albeit brief), and there’s undoubtedly enough barriers to entry for the average moviegoer that I fear many will either see The French Dispatch at the box office and decide against it or see the film and struggle to understand what kind of story Anderson is trying to tell, especially given that, I haven’t even mentioned the most significant barrier to entry yet: this is an anthology film.

Now, I know the average person is getting more and more accustomed to the anthology storytelling method through TV shows like What If…?, Star Wars Visions, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, American Horror Story, Fargo, and many other films or television shows, but even though it’s been around for decades, I believe that the average person that, even if they consume a lot of anthology stories, still struggle to grasp the concept. Look at the critique behind What If…?, for example. Many people that I have talked to personally either thought that the show played out too similar to the main MCU timeline, and the episodes lacked a certain sense of cohesion for the few episodes that do connect. That criticism clarifies that people still struggle to grasp the idea of what an anthology series or film could be or that they do and can’t reconcile why Marvel played it so safe in the series.

Getting back to The French Dispatch, there is extraordinarily little I could say in the following review to convince you to see The French Dispatch if you’ve already heard of the film and are into the concept. However, I do think that if you are not a Wes Anderson fan and are on the fence, I think you should keep reading this review, as I think there’s more to The French Dispatch than what lays on its surface.

Trailer courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

This is the most Wes Anderson film ever to exist. The French Dispatch is a passion project for Anderson, and that’s apparent in the vision and scope of this film. This is a story about stories. Stories that unite the reader, and stories that divide the reader, or in this case, the viewer. Comprising of three separate yet interconnected narratives, Anderson focuses on the writer’s role in each story, thus inviting the viewer into the creative process and mindset of journalists crafting an article for the fictional newspaper that the film is titled after, The French Dispatch.

This process is also reflected in how Anderson writes the film. Outside of Anderson’s usual stylings, it feels like Anderson sat in many editorial meetings and interviewed journalists and editors alike to key into the life of a journalist and how journalism worked in the pre-digital age. It’s most apparent in the story “Revisions to a Manifesto – by Lucinda Krementz,” featuring Timothée Chalamet as Zeffirelli and Frances McDormand as Lucinda Krementz. As a result, the viewer gets a sense of how a journalist can capture a story and the edits made along the way.

Likewise, this reflects the journey the viewer has while watching the film. I can’t describe it, but somehow, with each story, Anderson tops himself in how he tells each story. I don’t usually say this, but if there’s one reason to watch this in a theater, it’s to experience how inventive Anderson gets with each story visually and narratively.

At times, it feels like Anderson is testing cinematographer Robert Yeoman to his limits. I’ll try not to spoil just how visually inventive the film is, so here’s just a taste. Not only does the typical Anderson style appear here (unbroken wide shots, plenty of tracking shots, for example), but Yeoman mixes it up by frequently switching aspect ratios, a mix of black & white photography, and a myriad of techniques too numerous for me to tell here. Instead, you’ll have to experience the cinematography for yourself, as it is a true treat. One section involving a freeze-frame had my jaw flat on the floor as I tried to wrap my mind around how difficult the shot must’ve been to capture with what looks to be almost one hundred extras.

As inventive as the cinematography is, the editing is even better. While I wish certain segments were allowed to play out a bit longer, the editing helps to keep the flow of the story Anderson is telling and keep the viewer’s attention in the dull moments (of which, there are a few) and compel them to pay attention as the film comes rocketing to a close. In fact, the editing makes this sub-two-hour film feel like a single hour, making the film overall feel like a breeze and never a chore.

Another element that only helps to bolster Anderson’s stories are the actors themselves. With a cast list too long to mention, each actor (some of which are longtime collaborators with Anderson) adds enough spice to their stories to bolster Anderson’s storytelling methods. So while I’m tempted to say that Chalamet, Aiden Brody, or Jeffrey Wright are the highlights of The French Dispatch, the strange thing about this film is that it feels like there’s this purposeful attempt to not outshine each other, not only in their respective stories but in the overall film.

Further enhancing these stories is the score by Alexandre Desplat and the surrounding soundtrack by artists such as Gene Austin, Candy And Coco, Gus Viseur, Grace Jones, Ennio Morricone, and many more. Usually, a soundtrack doesn’t matter to me unless it’s big and bombastic or something that I’d go out of my way to listen to after seeing the film. However, The French Dispatch is much about music as it is about stories. Whether it’s to relax or be inspired, we listen to music every day, more so for those stuck at desks all day. The role music plays in The French Dispatch is simple: it wants you to get a feel for the worlds these journalists create in their stories. With how varied and how long the film’s soundtrack is, I’d struggle to say that any of the music within is a skip. In listening to the soundtrack after my screening, I’m struck by how varied the soundtrack is and how well it accompanies me writing this review. So, even if you don’t see this film, this soundtrack does a fantastic job of pulling you into the film’s world and, by osmosis, into the journalists’ brains while they tell the viewer about the stories they’ve written and experienced.

While I’m on the subject of worlds, the production design by Adam Stockhausen is simply impeccable. Every set that is in this film, on location or built by the set decorators Rena DeAngelo & Hélène Dubreuil, feels lived in and something that felt like I could walk into France and experience for myself. In that way, the production design is a feast for the eyes, as is with most Wes Anderson productions. To say this is some Oscar-worthy production design is severely underselling how great the production design is in this film. You must see it to believe it.

So, some 1,300+ words later, we’re left with the eternal question: should you go out to a theater and see The French Dispatch (provided it’s playing in a theater nearby)? I believe, especially if you’ve read all of this review, you already have that answer for yourself, but if I may be so bold: yes, there is no circumstance in which I would tell someone not to see this movie if they have the opportunity. Sure, there are some significant roadblocks for those already wary of Anderson’s stylistic choices, but I think the experience of seeing a director get better along with the people involved with the film’s production getting better is worth the price of admission on its own merit.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The French Dispatch is now available in select theaters and will be expanding over the course of the next few weeks.

Until next time!

Thanks to Thomas Stoneham-Judge from Movies For ReelShane Conto, Joseph Davis, David Walters, and Ambula Bula for supporting Austin B Media on Patreon!

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