Wes Anderson’s tenth film is three shorts for the price of one. The first is wonderful, the second drags a bit, but the third sticks the landing. While The French Dispatch doesn’t rank among his all-time best, Anderson’s proven formula of quirky characters, dialogue, and set pieces hasn’t lost its touch. At the same time, The French Dispatch is among Anderson’s most experimental works. Anderson’s style lends itself well to the anthology format. Since the film features one of his largest ensembles to date, a single narrative couldn’t contain them all.
It’s odd that Anderson hasn’t set more of his films in France. Not only does Anderson live in Paris, but France embodies the whimsically bleak tone we associate with him. The Concrete Masterpiece revolves around the final issue of a French publication, chronically three stories. The best centers on painter/prisoner Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro), who finds an unlikely muse in guard Simone (Léa Seydoux). Although Simone is no-nonsense, she can’t deny her attraction to Moses, even if she doesn’t love him. Moses’ work catches the eye of art dealer Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody), although dealing with an incarcerated artist presents several obstacles.
The Concrete Masterpiece is so funny, romantic, and visually interesting that you almost wish the entire movie followed these characters. The French Dispatch loses some momentum, though, with Revisions to a Manifesto. Timothée Chalamet looks like he was born to star in a Wes Anderson movie. He delivers a reliably charismatic performance as Zeffirelli, a student revolutionary torn between an older journalist (Frances McDormand) and fellow revolutionary Juliette (Lyna Khoudri). While this section isn’t without its highlights, the love triangle goes nowhere and we’re given little insight into the May 68 student riots.
The French Dispatch picks up with The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner, a title with Anderson’s signature all over. Jeffrey Wright’s Roebuck narrates this tale of kidnapping, cuisine, and a crooked chauffeur. When one thinks of a Wes Anderson caper, this is precisely what comes to mind. The segment builds to an inventive animated chase reminiscent of a Winsor McCay comic strip. In addition to animation, The French Dispatch experiments with a mix of color and black and white cinematography. The transition between the two styles doesn’t always make sense, but the film is always beautiful to observe.
While the runtime clocks in at a respectable 103 minutes, the film could’ve used an extra ten to flesh out The French Dispatch itself. Outside of Wright’s character, the journalists aren’t given much development. Elisabeth Moss, once again playing a copy editor, feels especially underutilized. The death of Bill Murray’s editor drives much of the plot forward, but we don’t even learn much about him. Although the framing device leaves something to be desired, The French Dispatch is delightful on the whole. The production values are mesmerizing, and Anderson’s screenplay paints a loving, adventurous portrait of journalism. Even if it doesn’t reach the heights of Moonrise Kingdom or The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s latest is a charmer nonetheless.