Wes Anderson isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. I know this. He can be a little too quirky and whimsical for many people. I have friends who can’t stand him. I do think he sort of shot himself in the foot a little by making The Grand Budapest Hotel so funny and accessible. It gave more people the Anderson bug but they don’t get the same feeling from his other films. Personally, I enjoy his work. It’s like a little aesthetic escape from reality. His films are an antidote to the doom and gloom that we regularly see around us. I get excited every time a new film is announced. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I would have raced to see The French Dispatch at the cinema as soon as it came out. As it stands, I’m still avoiding public spaces as much as possible without totally ruining my life. Meaning I had to wait for this to come to Disney+. Better late than never.
I’m sure that I’ve read a review of this film that called it the most Wes Anderson film that Wes Anderson has ever made. Though it wasn’t intended as a compliment, it told me that I should expect it to be super weird, awkward and bizarre. The French Dispatch certainly contains all of the traditional Anderson tropes and cast members. It has everything a long-time fan could want. However, it’s not a film that should easily be dismissed as the same old thing. Yes, it’s Wes Anderson doing what he does best but there is still plenty of brilliance here.
The film is a love letter to a lost age of journalism. To those publications that catered to a very specific audience. The film opens with the news that the editor of The French Dispatch has died and the magazine is putting together its final issue. We then see the stories that inspire the final pieces as narrated by their writers. There’s the cycling tour of the town of Ennui-sur-Blasé to set us up. Then we hear the issue’s main three stories. The first is focuses on the incarcerated man who became an overnight sensation in the art world. Secondly, we hear about a student protest from the journalist who becomes involved with their leader. Finally, we witness the kidnap of a police commissioner’s son.
The fact that the film is split into these separate sections does give it more of an anthology feel, which I don’t find as successful an approach. It’s more sporadic but I don’t think it ruins the experience. There is plenty of funny stuff to contend with. What it does mean is that some of the parts are more successful than others. Though it was visually very pleasing, the first section with Owen Wilson’s cycling reporter wasn’t as memorable as it could have been. Equally, Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet get lost in a slightly messy but still charming tale.
What always makes Wes Aderson stand out as a director is how intricate and well-constructed everything is. Every single detail here has been thought out and it all looks stunning. It’s also funny. Not as obviously funny as something like The Grand Budapest Hotel but there are plenty of laughs along the way. The cast is full of Anderson regulars along with a few new faces. Every single one does a great job of presenting the director’s vision and brings their own twist to his style.
Though this film features many of his traditional approaches, it also feels slightly experimental. He mixes styles and has a bit of fun with his presentation. There is an animated section that feels so right. He also briefly flirts with politics but manages to avoid making any outright statements. Is it the best Wes Anderson film you’ll ever see? Probably not but it’s up there with his most enjoyable. Like many of his offerings, it demands a second viewing but I was still left feeling full of joy to be back in the director’s unique world.