As Wes Anderson is a director with one of the most distinctive style of filmmaking, there is always that possibility that he may just end up imitating himself. But instead, with The French Dispatch, its as if he’s taken a step back and decided to go in a very different direction. Granted the framing is still the same, the use of cross section is still very in use and the deadpan acting is all there. But instead of one linear story, the film is split into sections, like the title itself, like a magazine. Each story is indeed rife with Wes Anderson-isms but there is something quite different about the entire film. It feels like a last hurrah.
Following the death of the editor-in-chief of The French Dispatch, of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, Arthur Howitzer Jr expressed in his will that the newpaper seize publication. Along with an obituary and a column from the cycling journalist, three articles are included about the arts and artists, politics and culinary arts, tastes and smells.
The film plays out as a visual companion to the final issue of the newspaper/magazine complete with intro and obituary. As a homage to the printed word its wonderful. But the main three stories written feel as if they should have been given more time. This might have worked as a mini-series but I suppose the quick cuts and deadpan acting might not have sustained over 3-4 hours.
Focusing on the three main articles, all the writers are able to bask in the limelight in various ways, no medium left unexplored, whether it is through a talk with slides or through an interview on a talk show, the image of each writer is portrayed differently. A story about a disturbed artist being discovered in prison is joyfully bizarre with the best cast and would probably be a favourite among fans. A story about the student protests as seen through the students and their different encampments as well as the older journalist is thought provoking as well as full of nostalgia for the 60s but is the final story, about a chef who poisons kidnappers that is surprisingly heart-breaking. Jeffery Wright as the journalist Roebuck Wright brings all the emotion in a matter of minutes to the front. All three stories have greater depth to them than you see in trailers and marketing for the film, but this final story has the edge and the more dramatic scenes, complete with animated parts. All these stories are beautifully written coupled with the most amazing production design, as usual. It is a very different experience than Anderson’s other films but one that can be cherished.
Anderson has said that this film is a love letter to journalists with many of the characters inspired by real people. The passion comes across in waves from the intimate close-up moments that have to stop and reflect to the use fantastic use of miniatures and the crosscut scenery and the grand large scale set pieces that really are magnificent. This is the ultimate stand out over the top film that includes 4 stories not 1, as if he wanted to makes sure that everyone had a chance to shine. At times the film does feel overstuffed with ‘names’ but no less enjoyable. The amount of detail that is included is staggering. But this is one of the reasons why Anderson’s films stand out among the rest of Hollywood and the Indie slates. He has a distinct style and casts A list international actors but his writing is NOT what Hollywood wants which is why he keeps his work interesting a fresh, through his writing. It would be great to see Anderson return to his roots of writing, after such a great streak with his last two films, something on a smaller scale would be exciting and of course would be feel less of a farewell.