Arts movie review

Wes Anderson’s ode to ‘The New Yorker,’ the French, and Bill Murray

Another Anderson classic for the archives

The French Dispatch
Directed by Wes Anderson
Screenplay by Wes Anderson
Starring Bill Murray, Benicio del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalamet, Léa Seydoux
Rated R, Playing Oct. 22

Whimsical is the word I always use to describe Wes Anderson films. The bright color palettes, quirky characters, and scintillating storylines create a unique but deceptively innocent atmosphere, akin to a children’s film for adults. The cheerful elements often mask an underlying bleakness, and The French Dispatch is no exception to this classic Wes Anderson formula. 

In what is perhaps the most Wes Anderson film to date, The French Dispatch engages the audience in a journalistic tale dedicated to the life and times of Kansas-born Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), the editor-in-chief of The French Dispatch, which is published in its French outpost in Ennui-sur-Blasé. To honor both his death and the magazine, the remaining journalists spotlight three of the journal’s most prominent stories in addition to an obituary for the final issue. While the world is universal, the stories themselves are mostly self-contained, making the film more of an anthology of short films under the roof of a singular brand, akin to an actual newspaper or magazine.

Anderson puts his own twist on classic journalism stories while remaining true to the heart of a magazine. Featuring tortured artists, young revolutionaries, and radish-hating children, the stories check off many of the typical categories found in a newspaper, and depending on the topic, some stories may appeal to certain audience members more than others. Flipping through each one feels very much like flipping through the pages of a paper. Each story is so unique in its narrative and visuals that comparing them against each other would be incredibly difficult, but in a way, they do build off of one another. Compared to the first two stories, the third focuses more on the reporters themselves and the inner workings of the magazine, and specifically on how its editor-in-chief operates. We see how Howitzer recruits Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) into the magazine, catapulting him from a jailbird to a famous reporter by giving him a chance to write an article. A key piece of advice given to him: “Make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.” 

While it is near impossible to become truly invested in any of the stories simply due to the short time allotted to each, it is also impossible to not become intrigued after each section. Anderson drops enough details for the audience to leave pondering more about the meaning of it all, or at the very least, an aesthetic visual journey. 

As each story is introduced, the visuals grow increasingly varied and the isolated bubble the story lives in a little more porous. The issue commences with the story of Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro), a convicted murderer and talented artist whose paintings garner a following in the outside world during his time in prison. J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), the reporter for the story, presents it in a lecture-style format; this allows the scenes to oscillate between her and the events described and also forms a barrier between the reporter and the event. This barrier is collapsed with the second story, where the reporter, Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), engages in a relationship with one of the key figures, revolutionary Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet). The series of spotlights culminates with the kidnapping of The Commissaire’s (Mathieu Amalric) radish-hating son, Gigi (Winston Ait Hellal), an absolute masterpiece for the eyes. Anderson plays around with the stylings of the scene, moving between the black-and-white realism and an animated cartoon for the car chase at the end. The transitions are surprisingly unjarring and serve as a refreshing break from the monochrome intensities of the preceding events. Wes Anderson is already renowned for his unique style, and The French Dispatch furthers these creative visions, adding another dimension to a Wes Anderson film. 

The cast features many of Anderson’s frequent collaborators (Murray, Swinton) as well as some newcomers (Lyna Khoudri, Wright, Del Toro). In the fashion of a true ensemble cast, everyone’s performances are equally as strong and commendable as the other’s, exhibiting the perfect amount of levity and whimsicality that define a Wes Anderson film. 

Largely inspired by The New Yorker and Anderson’s affinity for the French, The French Dispatch experiments with the boundaries of cinematic storytelling and somehow makes Wes Anderson even more Wes Anderson.