The French Dispatch Review The Nerdy Basement

The French Dispatch Review: A Vivid and Waggish Stroke of Artistry

Wes Anderson’s ‘The French Dispatch’ retains his distinct filmic personality and booms with homages and tributes to French New Wave cinema.

I saw “Dune” and “The French Dispatch” on the same day, it was a Timothee Chalamet double feature! I don’t want to see that creep’s face again for at least a year. Or at least until “Wonka” comes out. I’m glad they’re keeping up the tradition of making Willy Wonka look like a steampunk fink. Ok, enough Timothee Chalamet hate. “The French Dispatch” opened in select theaters on the 22nd and I was ecstatic to go see it.

Wes Anderson’s latest film takes place in the fictional French town of Ennui and follows the writers of a local magazine called “The French Dispatch”. Somewhat of a loose anthology, the film employs an extensive cast of big names like The non-cannibalistic half of the “Call Me By Your Name cast”, “Mobius”, the guy who voiced Garfield, and Willem Dafoe for a sum of 3 minutes of screentime!

You have all these directors saying “cinema is dying!” “Marvel is destroying art!” Then, you have filmmakers like Wes Anderson who keep the spirit of mainstream art alive. “The French Dispatch” is all in all an artistic endeavor than it is a whimsical, quirky story on love and ridiculousness. The film is a visual love letter to the French new wave of cinema.

The film is brimming with visual tropes and homages to the iconic era of filmmaking. The French new wave breathed life into the most mundane of tasks and made them riveting to watch. One particular aspect of the movement was its adoption of non-narrative filmmaking. Wes Anderson’s quirky writing style was the perfect vehicle to channel the stylings of the movement.

The French Dispatch Review The Nerdy Basement
(From L-R): Wally Wolodarsky, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson in the film THE FRENCH DISPATCH. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

In the early years, you find shorts documenting everyday life with innovative filmmaking techniques. Wes Anderson is known for his symmetrical shooting style but that technique takes the backseat in this film. You have interchanging cameras and lenses, extravagant set designs and structures, the use of black and white as well as vibrant color shooting, even an animation sequence. One of my favorite choices in the film is the way Anderson shoots freeze-frames.

In the film, you will find moments captured in frozen moments of action but it isn’t an editing trick. You can see the actors doing their best to stay frozen in space, instead of simply pausing the scene. It’s small decisions like those that buoy the film’s disjunct story.

Yes, the film is an anthology following the stories told by The French Dispatch’s best writers. The stories themselves are just what you expect from a Wes Anderson film: eccentric characters engaging with each other in quirky dialogue and whimsical situations. It’s more of the same thing we’ve been getting from Wes Anderson for years but I’d be lying if I said I’m tired of seeing it. The problem with the disjunct stores is that when one ends, I’m left with wanting more or that it wasn’t enough.

The stories unfold and quickly wrap up in somewhat of a rushed fashion. Anderson takes his time with the dialogue and the interactions but seldom expands on the most important parts of some of the stores. Maybe this is all in the name of his dedication to the French New Wave but in the end, it becomes a heavy cloud over the film.

The French Dispatch Review The Nerdy Basement
(From L-R): Hippolyte Girardot, Stephen Park, Jeffrey Wright, and Mathieu Amalric in the film THE FRENCH DISPATCH. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

To say who had the best performance in the film is like taking 25 snickers bars, biting into all of them, and deciding which one tastes the best. In all honesty, you don’t watch a Wes Anderson film for its performance despite its list of some of the best white actors working today. Everybody is more or less playing the same character with different faces and I find that aspect hilarious.

In the end, it becomes a contest of who can play the same character but better. All that being said, I found Jeffrey Wright’s presence brilliant as well as endlessly charismatic. Wright has a way of expressing his character’s desires and emotions in more subtle ways. Pair this with Anderson’s flair for the eccentric and you have the best character in the film. Adrien Brody was also pretty funny.

The French Dispatch Review The Nerdy Basement
(From L-R): Bill Murray, Wally Wolodarsky, and Jeffrey Wright in the film THE FRENCH DISPATCH. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

“The French Dispatch” booms with an assortment of ideas and artistic paths that all culminate in the most Wes Anderson ending of all his films. A gathering of people mourning the death of their boss with cake. As far as artistic filmmaking, this is Anderson’s more inclined work, and I’m sad to say that one viewing isn’t enough.

But I’m stuck in a paradox where I want to see the film again but I know the magic will be diminished. The film’s weight is in its first viewing, its unpredictability is where it succeeds and I would love to relive it. Not as great as the “Moonrise Kingdom” and not as bad as… I don’t know, I guess if I had to choose one it’d be Steve Zissou (sorry not sorry). Screw “Dune”. Go see “The French Dispatch”!

Grade: A-

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