Wes Anderson’s latest is an often marvelous and exquisitely crafted travelogue into the director’s love for French cinema, The New Yorker and being able to do whatever he damn well pleases.
The French Dispatch feels like a guilty pleasure for Anderson (and his fans), but not in the way that term is usually thrown around. We don’t feel guilty because we shouldn’t like this, we feel guilty that Anderson was able to give us something so unvarnished from his mind at a level of quality where not a corner is cut. The huge roster of characters is littered with the world’s best actors. The sets are simply a sight to behold. The craftwork on display here is perfect to every page of The French Dispatch that we probably never even got to see. It’s a dream to step into as a fan of his work and I can only imagine Anderson’s glee as he was able to let his imagination find no bounds; feeling guilty that they are really letting him do whatever he wants.
And I’m here for it.
Is this my top Wes Anderson feature, not as a whole, but I think two of the three stories presented to us can go toe to toe with the director’s best work, in my eyes (Mr. Fox, Grand Budapest, Tenenbaums). The epic tale of an artist’s masterpiece, a revolution of the week, and food review gone sideways are the cores of the three stories on display, oh and throw in an Owen Wilson on a bike tour of the city at the center of this all for good measure. The artist’s tale and review gone wrong are the highlights of the film, but I look forward to the middle revolution on a second viewing with a better head on my shoulders of where that is going.
What holds the middle section back a bit is the fact that it isn’t scored by Alexandre Desplat’s phenomenal score, which might be the man’s and the filmmakers best to date, which is certainly saying something. This thing will be on loop. This is of course paired with some exquisite frames from Robert Yeoman, top notch editing from Andrew Weisblum, untouchable production design by Adam Stockhausen, costume work that’s impeccable from head to toe by Milena Canonero & Patricia Colin, all bringing to life a script by Anderson.
The middle revolutionary chunk feels the most indebted to the French New Wave, but it’s bookends feel like perfect little stories of zany comedic action that fit alongside the jailhouse sequences in Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson’s use of miniatures, animation, stop-motion, and bluescreen work help transport you into his brain and while everything feels otherworldly to a certain extent, you never feel like you are out of that world.
Of the cast, you could mention just about everyone, but the strongest of the bunch would have to be Tilda Swinton, Benicio del Toro, Jeffery Wright, Lea Seadoux, Adrien Brody, Lyna Khoudri, Timothée Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan’s blue eyes and Winston Ait Hellal. Murray is a delight, but is rarely seen, killing it in his couple of extended moments with his reporters.
Are you going to like The French Dispatch? Yes, if you like Anderson. Yes, if you like France. Yes, if you like pristine filmmaking. No, if you can’t take the Wes of it all. Luckily, I love it.