Random Lengths News
The French Dispatch
otherwise served as a reminder of how inferior a film this was to Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Alas, The French Dispatch continues Anderson’s current streak of presenting us with gorgeous, technically dazzling work that reminds us how much better his work used to be.
Initially, The French Dispatch gives false hope. Opening with the establishment of the film’s metafictional framing device (the final edition of a mid-20th-century Kansas newspaper’s Sunday insert focusing on fine writing about the French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé), after a brief obituary of the Dispatch’s editor-in-chief (Bill Murray), The French Dispatch sets up its primary action with a travelogue, taking us on a drolly breathtaking tour of Ennui while introducing new techniques into the Anderson canon (black-and-white, tableaux) to great effect. We’re off to a perfect start.
Unfortunately, we never really go anywhere. Each of the three unrelated vignettes that comprise the bulk of the film — the history of a major fresco by an incarcerated painter, a record of a failed student revolution, and an account of a particularly eventful night in the life of the world’s foremost police chief — has its aesthetic moments and a couple of yuks, but in the end we don’t care about any of the many, many characters we meet. Moreover, because nothing connects the dots beyond the fact that all the tales take place in Ennui and were once told by The Dispatch, it feels as if Anderson threw these stories together knowing full well that none has enough heart to anchor a film but hoping his magazine conceit would keep us from noticing.
There’s a lot of cinematic prestidigitation to take your eye off the ball. In addition to b&w and tableaux, along with his usual bag of tricks Anderson employs animation (a short sequence is lovely, an extended one becomes tedious), split-screen, and multiple aspect rations; places subtitles in a variety of screen locations and font sizes; outdoes his previous best efforts with miniatures (which is saying something); and achieves so much with sets and set dressing both in camera and digitally that there ought to be a Special Achievement award for The French Dispatch at next year’s Oscars.
Anderson also seems to be going for a special award along the lines of “Cast With Most Recognizable Names/ Faces.” In addition to over a dozen Wes Anderson veterans, we’ve got maybe 10 additional actors you’ll recognize (e.g., Elisabeth Moss, Benicio Del Toro, Saoirse Ronan). Frustratingly, some seem present only to pad the stats. We love seeing Christoph Waltz, for example, but why bother employing such a brilliant talent if all you’re going to have him do is sit at a table for less than a minute with nary a word?
There’s a galaxy of star power in The French Dispatch and a shiny surface worthy of anything in the great auteur’s oeuvre. And to be fair, Anderson and his co-writers display an apropos-for-a-film-about-first-order-journalism joie de mots. But it all amounts to style over substance — a once unfair charge levied against Wes Anderson films that now even some of his biggest fans cannot defend against.