Rated R for more nudity than you would think, but not so much nudity that you would comment on this movie being about nudity. There's sexuality as well, but nothing graphic. It's more R than other Wes Anderson movies, but the tone is still pretty whimsical. If you weren't expecting language, well shame on you. R.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
Last night, my wife had an impromptu meeting. When I say "impromptu", it means she straight up forgot that she had a late night Zoom meeting until it happened, so I found myself with unexpected free time. After the kids went to bed, I was going to keep working on the basement (we're still unpacking from a move) when I realized that I was exhausted. I sat down and decided to watch part of a movie. It's been a minute, after all. It was in that moment that I remembered that I really enjoy watching movies and I enjoy writing about movies. So I now have the drive to write about The French Dispatch.
The funny thing is...I watched about half an hour of Soylent Green.
Anyway, it's so bizarre watching all of these movies at home. I know that the world is screaming that Covid is over, despite a staggering amount of cases per day. So movies like The French Dispatch, a movie I would 100% rally to go see in theaters, end up being home video views. Part of me might be a little happy that this ended up being a view-at-home film because it wasn't my favorite of Wes Anderson's. Now, I want to put a big ol' caveat on that. I'm a guy who likes Wes Anderson a lot. It's pretty basic of me to claim to like Wes Anderson. He's my generation's / Generation X's leading artistic voice that is wildly accessible. And part of me even loves The French Dispatch. But I also acknowledge that it is missing something while gaining something simultaneously.
Okay, let's stop beating around the bush. The French Dispatch might be Anderson's most ambitious and technically successful film. For a guy who is all about craft and timing, everything in The French Dispatch is nailing the intention that Anderson wanted. Each shot is a painting. Each delivery is spot on. He does this in every movie, but it's almost like he's pushing himself to an extreme of craftsmanship in The French Dispatch. So why is it less than my favorite if it changes the rules of cinema? Honestly, it might be a bit too much.
I started feeling this with The Lego Batman Movie. (This is how comfortable I am with my writing and my argumentation. I am willing to make a direct link between Wes Anderson's recent opus and a corporate kids' comedy movie.) The Lego Batman Movie has definitely grown on me over the years. I've now seen it probably half a dozen times because my kids like it so much. But on my first viewing of the film, I thought it actually might be too obsessed with being funny and not interested in being vulnerable. The French Dispatch might have the same deal going on. There's this obvious need to transcend the form that some of the human moments are lost, which is ironic because Anderson feeds on commenting on the small human moments that make existence absurd. Somehow, for all of its glorification of those small bits, the movie often feels cold. Considering that the throughline of the film is the death of Bill Murray's character, you would think that this is something that Anderson is shooting for intentionally. But with that coldness comes a disjointedness that affects the consumption of the film.
It's not like any one of the vignettes is bad. If anything, I would have applauded these as separate short films, free of the linking narrative of the final issues of the eponymous newspaper. But together, there isn't really a takeaway. Now, part of me wonders if this is true about the anthology format of films altogether. After all, the only thing that is connecting these three stories is the setting and style. But there isn't a message that we're meant to leave with in these stories, at least ones that really get under your skin. I want to say this is more of a celebration of the long form journalism that has somehow shifted to the world of cyberspace. If I had to force a theme, it may be that The French Dispatch is a eulogy for print, Murray's character serving as an allegory for the death of a medium. But The French Dispatch doesn't really lament that storytelling will stop. While The French Dispatch of Liberty, Kansas may have printed its last issue, it still feels like there are stories to be told. Anderson never juxtaposes the old school editorial staff to something more contemporary. If anything, there's a deep respect for the curmudgeonly boomer, devoid of empathy a'la J. Jonah Jameson. So when I say that Murray's death is meant to represent the death of journalism, I don't know if he really nails down that theme.
Part of this movie is a satire on the absurdity of art. Then it jumps to the nature of revolution before concluding on absurdist pulp action. Maybe the fact that Anderson's themes are hard to nail down might come from the fact that he's commenting on the nature of humanity, interesting and diverse. Regardless of the situation, because of Anderson's style, it's going to come across as absurd. There's nothing normal or down to Earth in The French Dispatch. It's all colored with Anderson's personality. But that's kind of what makes it quirky and cool. None of the scenes would really work without Anderson's obsessive nuance added to every moment. It actually kind of feels like it could be Anderson's last picture, considering that everyone seems to be involved in the movie in some portion from his other films. (My apologies to Jeff Goldblum and Bryan Cranston because I may not have noticed you.) And as a celebration of Anderson's style, it's great.
But as a movie in itself that is meant to leave us feeling feelings? I don't know if it is that. And it's a shame because for all of Anderson's absurdism in his other movies, I often am left emotionally attached to characters. But the vignettes in this film are there for fun and I suppose that's cool. But the movie is so big that, like The Lego Batman Movie, it kind of collapses in on itself.
But there's a moment of hope. While I laughed at The Lego Batman Movie while thinking it was flawed, perhaps I'll turn around on The French Dispatch. I now love Lego Batman and I see potentially changing my mind on The French Dispatch as well.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.