French Dispatch, The: Wes Anderson’s Yet Another Eccentric but Ultimately Minor Chronicle of a Magazine (with Usual Miniatures and Marionettes)

The Cannes Film Festival was the obvious place to premiere a France-set movie made by a famous Francophile, which is why Searchlight and Wes Anderson decided to hold off on unveiling The French Dispatch until the festival’s 2021 edition after the 2020 edition at which it was originally slated to premiere was canceled due to the pandemic.
Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

 

 

The film played well at the Palais, garnering a lengthy ovation (best of the fest), though it was clear right away that the movie was not a serious contender for the Palme d’Or (Not in a year in which Spike Lee was the president of the jury!).

The French Dispatch next screened at the New York Film Festival on September 24, where it also got a positive, if not enthusiastic, reaction from the audience.

The movie finally opens today, October 22, in the U.S.

In 2014, Oscar voters loved The Grand Budapest Hotel, granting it nine nominations, including picture, director and original screenplay, and won awards for its technical (below-the-line) elements: costume design, makeup-hairstyling, original score and production design.

But they shunned his other live-action films, including 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums and 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom (each received only an original screenplay nomination), even though those two were well received by critics and audiences.

Anderson did receive best animated feature nominations for 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and 2018’s Isle of Dogs.

Anderson’s films have a specific (if limited) style and sensibility. But even by his standards, The French Dispatch is a trifle of a movie, set entirely in a fictional, pastel-painted town called Ennui-sur-Blasé, (Anderson has been living in Paris for a while).

The story is offbeat and eccentric–a slightly pretentious love letter to slightly pretentious journalism of the New Yorker kind.

Structured in sections, like a series of articles in a magazine, The French Dispatch is episodic by nature and less coherent in narrative terms than most of Anderson’s precious features.

For better or for worse, Anderson’s imprint is on every frame of the film.

The members of his cast who were at the Cannes premiere recognized this, insisting that he alone stand for the first few minutes of the post-film ovation.

Jeffrey Wright, a newcomer to the Anderson pack, has said that the actors are, essentially, Anderson’s marionettes, toys manipulated by the director for his own amusement.

The production design, costume design and makeup-hairstyling call too much attention to themselves–perhaps it is the director’s effort to mask the fact that what he says about journalism, past or present, is not particularly interesting, lacking gravitas and resonance.