two people standing in front of a massive bulletin board

The French Dispatch opens with a blink-and-you-miss-it exposition of the world Wes Anderson has created: It’s 1960s France, and Bill Murray is Arthur Howitzer Jr., editor of The French Dispatch, a fictional New Yorker-style magazine that originally began as a Sunday supplement to the Liberty, Kansas, Evening Sun, “bringing the world back to Kansas.” The film is a portmanteau—that is, a collection of shorter narratives within one film. It’s charmingly arranged in the structure of a print magazine, including an editor’s note, “The Cycling Reporter” by Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), feature stories “The Concrete Masterpiece” by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), “Revisions to a Manifesto” by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), and “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), plus “Declines and Deaths” as an endnote. 

The film is a love letter to France and to old-fashioned print journalism, particularly travel writing. (Howitzer Jr.’s mottos as editor are “No crying,” and “Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.”) It has everything that we’ve come to expect from Wes Anderson—carefully crafted aesthetics, perfect color palettes, and intricate tableaux of actors. It’s to nobody’s surprise that the film has a (mostly white) stacked cast, full of Wes Anderson regulars and a variety of A-listers in both major and minor roles. The French Dispatch alternates from French to English, from black-and-white to color, as if Anderson is just off screen with a switch. There’s occasional animation, quick-witted jokes, and a score once again by Alexandre Desplat, whose light and lilting piano threads the stories together. 

As with most films by this director, the style and humor and pacing can be polarizing. Despite some fun moments, The French Dispatch didn’t feel as easy a watch as other Wes Anderson films. It is certainly worth seeing for die-hard fans, Francophiles, and journalism lovers. But for newbies, on-the-fence viewers, and harsh critics, this reviewer might recommend just watching one of his other movies. R, 103 min.

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