Movie review: The French Dispatch

Liberty, Kansas

French DispatchSince I have enjoyed many of Wes Anderson’s films, I went to see a matinee of The French Dispatch. For a time, I was the ONLY person in the Spectrum 8 theater, but during the previews, a couple came in.

I was fond of the conceit of the movie, that a newspaper in Liberty, Kansas, for reasons of nepotism, had an outpost in Ennui, France. And I did appreciate the “love letter to journalists.”

The framing story is that when Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray ) dies, so does the Dispatch. After a brief piece of a guy on a bicycle (Owen Wilson) picking some bizarre highlights of the city, there are three main stories.

The first major piece involves Moses Rosenthal (Benicio Del Toro), a murderer in prison, who takes up art to keep his sanity, perhaps. His muse is prison guard Simone (Léa Seydoux). An art dealer (Julian Brody) tries to convince his uncles (Bob Babalan, Henry Winkler) to invest in the prison artist. This segment is reported by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton). I liked the absurdity of the manufactured art market.


The second section was about student rebellion, led by Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) and Juliette (Lyna Khoudri). Can Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) keep her journalistic objectivity? This section left me flat.

The last substantial part involves The Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric) inviting Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) to a dinner prepared by the great chef Nescaffier (Stephen Park). But then a crime is committed, and Wright is caught in the middle of the pursuit of the criminals. Wright retells the story to a talk show host (Liev Schreiber).

This may be the most absurd of the three – not necessarily a bad thing. So much so that a bit of the chase is rendered in animation. It may also be my favorite, largely on the strength of Wright’s performance.

Very Wes Anderson

Leonard Maltin noted: “This is not the first time Anderson has devoted too much time to minutiae and too little to actual storytelling. Even devotees of his work may find this an exercise in frustration-albeit an exceptionally handsome one.” I wasn’t frustrated, but I certainly understand where he was coming from. 74% of the critics and 76% of the audience liked The French Dispatch.

If you admire Wes Anderson’s quirky and occasionally indulgent work, you may appreciate this one. I have enjoyed Isle of Dogs (2018), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014 – my favorite), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and  Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). But I hated The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). I never saw The Darjeeling Limited (2007), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), Rushmore (1998), or Bottle Rocket (1996).

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