‘The French Dispatch’ is unmistakably Andersonian

Oct 29, 2021, 1:19 PM

Wes Anderson is an acquired taste. But luckily, after 10 full-length movies, most critics and many movie-goers have acquired it, although there are a few adamant hold-outs.

His new film, “The French Dispatch,” is unmistakably Andersonian. Quirky subject matter? Check. Deadpan humor? Check. Meticulous production design? Check. Light-hearted absurdity? Check. Visual and linguistic wit? Check. Excessively referential? Check. Superficially slight with hints of profundity? Check.

Anderson, above all else, is droll and “The French Dispatch” is one of his drollest.

And, OK, he can be pretty esoteric too. His latest is a deep-dive homage to The New Yorker magazine and to France. How’s that for an odd and oddly specific focus? You don’t have to be a connoisseur of the high-brow publication or a devotee of all things French to appreciate this film, but it wouldn’t hurt. Anderson unabashedly admits that many of his characters are composites of actual New Yorker writers.

In Anderson’s imagination, The French Dispatch is a weekly magazine based in France but written for subscribers to the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun newspaper. Run by a gruff but soft-hearted founder/editor (played by Anderson regular Bill Murray), the magazine has a tight-knit staff of writers, illustrators, editors, and proofreaders who produce original, high-quality writing week in and week out.

The conceit of the film is that it’s structured like a magazine. It starts with an opening scene-setter, a live-action “article” by their Cycling reporter (Owen Wilson) about the goings-on in town (think “Talk of the Town” for all you New Yorker mag fans). This is followed by three rather in-depth “articles” — one about a convicted murderer/abstract painter (Benicio Del Toro) who’s marketed to great renown, another about a student revolutionary (Timothée Chalamet) who gets intimately involved with a French Dispatch reporter (Frances McDormand), and finally, a story by their food writer (Jeffrey Wright), who inadvertently gets mixed up in a boy’s kidnapping and attempted rescue. The film/magazine ends with an obituary on the longtime founder who passed away during the piecing together of this final French Dispatch issue. Interspersed among these “articles” are scenes with the founding editor doling out advice and occasional criticism to his reporters.

My favorite line in the movie is also the wisest piece of advice any editor could give a writer: “Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.” Pure drollery.

Also droll? The town’s name. We first hear it’s “Ennui.” Everyone lives in Ennui. That’s funny. A little later, we find out the town’s full name — “Ennui sur Blasé.”  Not only is that redundancy funny, but if you’ve ever visited France you recognize how many towns are named something sur something. (In this case, Blasé is the name of the river running through town.) Très amusante, if you ask me.

Since the film is honoring a high-quality magazine, it’s fitting that the written word plays a prominent role in “The French Dispatch.” Not only is each new “article” introduced first with a written version of it on screen, but each story is also heavily narrated with voiceovers, so as to further emphasize its WRITTEN aspect. It’s rare for a visual medium like film to so acknowledge the value of the literary. But Anderson is careful not to shirk the film’s visual dimension. In fact, he’s very playful with the medium, juxtaposing color palettes with black-and-white, incorporating long animated sequences, changing aspect-ratios at will, presenting split-screens at times, occasionally freeze-framing group shots, and even scrolling subtitles upwards in the frame.

Curiously missing from this cinematic paean to The New Yorker is the magazine’s most iconic feature: the New Yorker cartoon. But I suspect for Anderson the entire film is his New Yorker cartoon. After all, it’s smart, precise, observant, and wry. Almost like he made it that way on purpose.

Check out more of Tom Tangney’s movie reviews here.

John Curley and Shari Elliker on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
  • listen to tom and curleyTune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 3pm for John Curley and Shari Elliker.

John Curley and Shari Elliker

Tom Tangney

Tom Tangney

Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Belfast’ is a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t quite hit the mark

"Belfast" has plenty to recommend itself but it's not nearly the moving testament to fraught times that Kenneth Branagh thinks it is or wants it to be.
2 months ago
Eternals, Marvel...
Tom Tangney

‘Eternals’ has to do a lot of heavy lifting for a single film

Imagine the daunting task Marvel sets for itself in "Eternals." It has to introduce 10 new superheroes, not to mention an entirely new cosmology.
2 months ago
Tom Tangney

All set-up and no payoff: ‘Dune’ is world’s longest and most expensive trailer

It's hard to find the right metaphor for the new "Dune" movie. Whatever comparison you choose, it must reflect a sense of incompletion.
3 months ago
Last Duel...
Tom Tangney

Poor Marguerite’s story saves ‘The Last Duel’

Tom Tangney says, ultimately, The Last Duel is a proto-feminist take on the Middle Ages with Marguerite's take that brings the film into focus.
3 months ago
James Bond...
Tom Tangney

Daniel Craig’s final James Bond movie comes full-circle

The 25th installment in the James Bond movie franchise may be titled "No Time to Die," but "Too Much Time to Die" may be more fitting.
3 months ago
Egyptian Theater...
Tom Tangney

Seattle’s Egyptian Theater hosts SIFF’s first ever documentary film festival

Seattle's Egyptian Theater is hosting SIFF's first ever documentary film festival. Dubbed DocFest, the weeklong festival features 13 separate titles.
4 months ago

Sponsored Articles


Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
‘The French Dispatch’ is unmistakably Andersonian