Movie Review: The French Dispatch

Filmmaker Wes Anderson has his rabid fans.  I get that.  All the big filmmakers do.  I wouldn’t say that I dislike his films but I wouldn’t call myself a fan either.  I liked THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, FANTASTIC MR. FOX, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL and ISLE OF DOGS.  His other work less so.  If, like me, you’re on the fence when it comes to Wes Anderson, his latest film, THE FRENCH DISPATCH, may just push you off.  The question is which side will you land on when the film’s final credits roll?

THE FRENCH DISPATCH is an ode to long-form magazine journalism similar to what we see in publications like The Atlantic, Harper’s and The New Yorker.  Revolving around the fictitious publication, The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, a magazine based in the French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé (literally “Boredom-upon-Indifference”) bringing French culture to American readers, the film begins with the death of its editor and co-founder Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray).  According to his will, upon his death, the magazine would publish one final edition containing a few articles from some of its previous editions along with Howitzer’s obituary before shutting down.  The story then revisits those stories – “The Cycling Reporter” by travel writer Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), “The Concrete Masterpiece” by art writer J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), “Revisions to a Manifesto” by journalist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) and “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” by food journalist Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright).

I think I just made the film sound more interesting than it is.  The problem I have with the film is that each of the stories, with the exception of “The Cycling Reporter”, overstays its welcome.  I get that long-form journalistic pieces are detailed, immersive and dare I say bordering on obsessive at times, but these stories end up being downright boring as the main characters in each drone on and on about essentially nothing.  It’s not like I’m an unlettered person either.  I enjoy reading The New Yorker, although I’ll readily admit to turning to the publication’s humour pages first, but there’s a limit to my patience and these stories flew way past that point.  Had each of them been trimmed by about ten minutes, I wouldn’t have minded watching another story – perhaps one about the magazine’s cartoonist, Hermes Jones (Jason Schwartzman), who only gets a tiny scene at the film’s conclusion.

Anderson fans will no doubt salivate over the film’s postcard visuals and I’ll concede that they are impressive.  Every shot by dp Robert Yeoman is a work of art with Anderson exactingly positioning his characters in each frame.  Unfortunately, Anderson doesn’t give viewers a lot of time to absorb each one as all his characters speak a very fast clip, and often in French, which means speed-reading through subtitles that are placed on various parts of the screen.  Where to look, where to look?

The filmmaker is clearly the new Woody Allen as everyone wants to work with him.  The film features dozens of A- and B-list actors in Hollywood and Paris these days.  In addition to Anderson regulars Murray, Wilson, Swinton, McDormand and Schwartzman (who co-wrote the story), and alumni Léa Seydoux, Adrian Brody, Tony Revolori, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, Liev Schreiber, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe and Angelica Huston (who serves as the story’s narrator), the film also features performances by Benicio Del Toro, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Mathieu Amalric, Henry Winkler, Lois Smith, Steve Park, Christoph Waltz, Rupert Friend and Elisabeth Moss.  Of all the performances, Swinton, with her overbite and 1960s bouffant hairdo, and Chalamet, who may have the film’s best line about his muscles, were the standouts but good performances and impeccable visuals weren’t enough to push me to become a card-carrying member of the Wes Anderson Fan Club.  At least not yet.

THE FRENCH DISPATCH opens in Hong Kong on Thursday (December 2nd).  This one’s for the most ardent of Wes Anderson fans… or for those who are looking for 108 minutes of comfortable, air-conditioned sleep.

Thanks for reading but don’t be a lurker! If you liked what you just read, here are some suggestions:

Sign up to receive my movie reviews in your inbox automatically
Share this review on your Facebook page
Leave me a message telling me what you thought of my review or the film
Bookmark the site and visit often
Like my Howard For Film Facebook page
Watch my reviews on my YouTube page
Check out my Howard For Film magazine on Flipboard
Tell your friends about the site

Sign up to receive my movie reviews in your inbox automatically
Share this review on your Facebook page
Leave me a message telling me what you thought of my review or the film
Bookmark the site and visit often
Like my Howard For Film Facebook page
Watch my reviews on my YouTube page
Check out my Howard For Film magazine on Flipboard
Tell your friends about the site

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: The French Dispatch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.