Directed by: Wes Anderson
Premise: An anthology based around an imaginary magazine that reports on art, current events, and culture in Paris. Each segment is a story from the magazine’s final issue.
What Works: The French Dispatch is a Wes Anderson film and it turns up Anderson’s style, going beyond even The Grand Budapest Hotel. For viewers who enjoy Anderson’s kooky art deco aesthetic, The French Dispatch offers a lot to savor. This is perhaps Anderson’s most ambitious live action film. Each segment has its own visual style which generally works for the stories being told. The best episode of The French Dispatch is “The Concrete Masterpiece” which is about a psychotic criminal (Benicio del Toro) who is also a brilliant painter and produces his work from within a prison. This segment is distinguished by its pacing, characterization, and storytelling. “The Concrete Masterpiece” introduces several characters and they achieve some nuance; del Toro is especially good as the incarcerated painter and he has a complicated relationship with a prison guard (Léa Seydoux) who is also his muse. This is also the funniest of the segments but the humor and the eccentricities all serve the narrative, the characterizations, and the themes. This story satirizes the way we talk about and value art and especially the relationship between the work, the creator, and the financiers while dramatizing those issues in a meaningful way.
What Doesn’t: The other segments of The French Dispatch are not nearly as strong as “The Concrete Masterpiece.” Some of the episodes are paradoxically under conceived and overdone, especially “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” which goes on far too long and overextends itself with multiple narrative frames. On the whole The French Dispatch comes across as little more than a trifle. It’s an amusing and well-crafted trifle but there’s just not much to it beyond the surface. The French Dispatch posits itself as a tribute to the heyday of paper periodicals and the specialized sort of writing that they supported and published. Some of the characters are modeled upon actual people—the contributor played by Jeffrey Wright is said to be a composite of James Baldwin and A. J. Liebling and the editor played by Bill Murray is allegedly inspired by Harold Ross of The New Yorker—but The French Dispatch offers little that is relevant or insightful.
Bottom Line: The French Dispatch is an amusing but hollow bauble of a film. It’s a playful tribute to the writers and publications of a particular era and it showcases Wes Anderson’s signature craftsmanship but there’s not much else to it.
Episode: #878 (November 14, 2021)