the french dispatch review

Watching Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch is a delirious experience. It’s akin to being a guest at some amazing meal, with each course more stunning than the last, and just as you wish to take in a moment to admire each dish, the crumbs are whisked away for a new treat to be delivered by nimble servers. It’s a film that weaponizes whimsy in ways that will dazzle die-hard fans of the director. As long as your heart is open, your ears attuned to the pace of the proceedings and eyes accustomed to this mode of staging, you’ll have a quite remarkable experience gorging on this gorgeous film.

Told through three primary storylines presented as articles ripped from the fictional literary magazine that gives the film its name, we meet many of the regular troupe that have made much of Anderson’s oeuvre such a wonderful ride over the last few decades. Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, and Willem Dafoe are joined by likes of Liev Schreiber, Saoirse RonanTimothée ChalametMatheiu Amalric, Stephen Park, Lyna Khoudri, and Frances McDormand. Simply reveling in this cast list is enough to excite, and each perfectly inhabits their place within the cacophonous world of Ennui-sur-Blasé, a small town that wakes up quickly in the morning, and is the home to a magazine setup by a Kansas-based publisher as a kind of foreign outpost to bring stories of the continent back to local readers.

Perhaps the most charming is the story of a prisoner artist, his muse, and the agent responsible for bringing to the world his work. Benicio Del Toro‘s roaring, murderous self is wonderful, as is a twitchy turn by Adrien Brody as the art dealer and Tilda Swinton as a buyer. But it’s the absolute radiant, intoxicating turn by Léa Seydoux playing both muse and gardienne that’s truly glorious. She brings a fierce, Franco sullenness that’s particularly intoxicating, lending a kind of local credence with her role to Anderson’s entire folly.

The rapidity of shots, intricately designed and staged, gave rise to immediate desire to rewatch. Even the inclusion of neo-Ya Ya French ’60s pop, voiced by Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, made one crave sitting down in a café, or jitterbugging to tunes on an aubergine-colored portable record player. Seen in a theatrical palace on the Mediterranean, the film exudes what it feels in one’s mind’s eye to be in a mystical France at its most romantic and surreal, a land where while even the undertakers have gone on strike the garishly painted obese streetwalkers feel the stuff of some master’s oil painting.

As each storyline is drawn out – the prison artist, the 1968 student rebellion, the gangster kidnapping and food fantasy, along with tales of the magazine itself – we are treated to manifold sides of everything that one dreams about in such a landscape. Unapologetically literary, Anderson’s credits thank a pantheon of longform writers, from Mavis Gallant to James Baldwin, immediately providing a bibliography to delve into to elicit some of the more subtle real-world references.

With sublime lensing by Robert Yeoman that switches aspect and palate throughout, a perfectly twee soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat augmenting the baroque pop and symphonic trifles, and Adam Stockhausen’s mindbendingly exceptional production design, this is simply heaven for anyone that wants their films to be very serious about having fun. Once again many of the animated elements that Anderson brought to life with Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox shows that his overtly manipulated visual style is a welcome mix of the intricately prepared and the wickedly haphazard. Add in a killer car chase that quite literally takes a pause where we return to where we left off and you’ve got a million different pieces to fall in love with.

Yet above all, it’s the remarkable way in which Anderson’s tale is able to hold this much narrative, this much pomp and fury and fantasy and silliness, constrained somehow with the pages of his own dispatch. The different chapters are unique yet speak to one another, the timbre shifts but the tune remains the same, ever inviting a closer read yet never feeling above the audience. This is a world you’re invited in to explore, as he has done throughout his career, but with an effect that’s perhaps nowhere near as calibrated as with his latest.

A symphony of excess, The French Dispatch is a lot, and I watched it mouth agape simply trying to hold on and let the images and words and performances enter my mind as if I was drinking from a fire hose. It’s a wild ride, to be sure, and given how rare it is to have an artist with such a commitment to such a loud, triumphant aesthetic it’s almost uncanny when pared against other, more commonly austere works, even those that pass off as blockbusters.

The French Dispatch is a rocket ship ride to your cinematic soul, meshing word, action and vision in one glorious bon-bon that’s both sweet and savory. It’s a film I cannot wait to visit over and over, and it’s a film that reminds that, yes, stories truly can take one to places that they never knew they wanted to be, yet are forever changed by the journey that we’re led on.

/Film Rating: 10 out of 10

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

About the Author

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor of ThatShelf.com, Features Editor at DTK Magazine and a critic for HighDefDigest.