Wes Anderson may be best known for his unique, genre-less films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015, and Moonrise Kingdom. But the director has always flirted with genre, from his high school comedy Rushmore to his recent animated film, Isle of Dogs.
Despite his genre-defying tendencies, it’s obvious Anderson loves playing with tropes too. That’s never been more apparent than in The French Dispatch, which takes elements of comedy, tragedy, drama, melodrama, satire, animation, Jaques Tati, Luis Bunuel and Federico Fellini, and tosses them into a blender that can barely contain all the ingredients.
From the moment a song titled Aline starts playing over a montage of fourth-wall-breaking characters, you know you’re getting into something weird and delicious. It’s not an Anderson joint without an opening montage: in this one, we are introduced to the writers of a New Yorker-inspired magazine, a colorful cast of journalists, critics and correspondents who dress like freshly-made macarons.
Each chapter follows a piece of their writing: Owen Wilson offers the local color; Tilda Swinton gives a lecture about a prisoner (Benicio Del Toro) who becomes the toast of Abstract Expressionism thanks to his Willem de Kooning-styled paintings. Frances McDormand is a political reporter who writes about a protest movement led by a student (Timothee Chalamet) that allows Anderson the chance to riff on Fellini and Bunuel.
The final chapter involves a kidnapped child, a master chef, a snowy shootout, an animated car chase, an interviewer (Liev Schreiber) who’s made to resemble Dick Cavette and an interviewee (Jeffery Wright) who recalls his decade-long career at the Dispatch. Somehow, it all dovetails nicely, and the final shot of the writer’s gathering around their editor’s desk to write his obituary beautifully encapsulates a time when journalists actually wrote from desks instead of couches.
The French Dispatch draws on the history and tradition of journalism while also demolishing tradition, steamrolling convention with its brand of defiance, wit, whimsy and alchemy. It feels familiar (we’ve seen these tropes before), but the letters have been re-typed in Andersonian font. It’s a movie only he could have made; a one-of-a-kind homage to genre, cliche and cinema, and all the beguiling discoveries they dispatch.
The Dove Take
This is an R-rated movie with no biblical themes or positive messages. That being said, it’s also a movie with more creativity packed into its two hours than most directors pack into their entire filmography — if you enjoy Anderson, then you’ll enjoy this.