‘The French Dispatch’ Movie Review: Wes Anderson Gives Andersonian Quirk Overload

The French Dispatch is bursting at the seams with creativity. If you’re a Wes Anderson fan who loves his quirky sense of humor, The French Dispatch will be an absolute feast. Several A-listers fill out the marvelous cast, who elevate the movie‘s various vignettes. However, the stories don’t all come together to create a cohesive piece of storytelling in the finished product.

‘The French Dispatch’ is Wes Anderson’s 10th film

'The French Dispatch' stars Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri leaning with their backs facing each other
L-R: Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri | Searchlight Pictures

The French Dispatch takes place at an American newspaper outpost during the 20th century. The fictional French city called Ennui-sur-Blasé comes to life through a collection of stories. Some of the characters and their stories are based on real people and events, while others are fictionalized.

The narrative centers on a collection of specific tales and the editor (Bill Murray) who explores their works. However, the story’s purpose is to traverse what stories are worth telling that truly gives a city its colors. Anderson’s 10th movie is structured similarly to a newspaper issue with page numbers intact.

‘The French Dispatch’ is a mixed bag of vignettes

'The French Dispatch' stars Benicio Del Toro and Léa Seydoux behind prison bars
L-R: Benicio del Toro and Léa Seydoux | Searchlight Pictures

The French Dispatch delivers an Andersonian tone from the very first scene. The story tackles some serious subject matter but handles it in a very playful fashion. The story’s meaning and comedy are often lying just outside of the frame, which allows Anderson to make quick reveals with camera pans and zooms. This technique is rather effective in executing many of the movie’s jokes.

The stories range from following political movements to providing social commentary on the art world. The movie has a quirky tone that’s consistent throughout the movie. It’s a huge benefit for some of the tales, but it acts as a detriment in others. Anderson is regularly operating at a 10 on his quirk scale.

But, The French Dispatch is ultimately about stories that are worth being told. Some of the stories successfully bring Ennui-sur-Blasé to life. However, others place gags at the center of their stories. As a result, the movie loses itself in its own quirkiness and its intention becomes dullened.

A love letter to journalism

'The French Dispatch' exterior shot with a van in front
‘The French Dispatch’ | Searchlight Pictures

The French Dispatch has one of the most impressive cast lists in recent memory. Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, and Murray are just some of the huge names to make an appearance. The performances are all solid and it’s clear that previous collaborators know exactly how to elevate Anderson’s material.

Production designer Adam Stockhausen previously won the Oscar for working on Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. He once again turns in marvelous work, which will likely secure him another nomination. The sets often operate similarly to a play, which is only elevated by cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman’s tremendous work. Anderson runs the screen like real estate, similar to a newspaper. Every inch of the screen is taken advantage of for maximum comedic effect.

With 10 movies now under Anderson’s belt, moviegoers should be very familiar with what the filmmaker has to offer. He certainly has a signature charm that either works for you or it doesn’t. The French Dispatch is Anderson throwing in everything but the kitchen sink in his love letter to journalism. Anderson’s quirkiness gets in its own way, resulting in a serious lack of emotional impact. But, it’s sure to make you chuckle along the way.

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