There have been many films – some truly great, like All The Presidents Men, Call Northside 777, and Spotlight – that have focused on journalists and portrayed them as crusaders of the truth and the heroes of the stories being told. Writer/director Wes Anderson’s new film The French Dispatch is not only a tribute to journalists and their work but also a love letter to The New Yorker magazine.
The film begins with the death of Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray), the owner and editor of a magazine named The French Dispatch. In his will Howitzer Jr. directed that the magazine would end with his demise, dictating that a special final issue featuring his obituary would be published along with stylish, intriguing articles by the journalists on staff.
The film then cuts to the offices of the magazine in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé in France where the staff begin to go over the stories to be included in the special farewell issue. From there, the film launches into a collection of short stories by the journalists showing a selection of the best stories they’ve covered in their careers.
Stories deemed worthy of inclusion include food reviewer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) becoming involved in a major kidnapping case and veteran journalist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) getting too close to a student protest dubbed the “Chessboard Revolution.” Plus, there’s the unusual tale of a criminally insane artist, Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), and his relationship with his muse, Simone (Léa Seydoux), a guard at the asylum where he’s incarcerated.
Stylish and quirky, The French Dispatch features Anderson’s well-known peculiar style and dry wit. However, in this outing Anderson misses the target and has created a shallow, empty film focused on style over substance. The collection of short stories, while original and offbeat, lack any real depth or development.
The A-list cast is wasted in this hollow, artsy pulp filled with caricatures instead of interesting and engaging characters. Some of the ensemble are completely wasted…Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, and Henry Winkler…appearing as brief, one-dimensional characters who are off the screen just as the audience is recognizing them.
Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch fails to engage the audience and feels superficial. Even the filmmaker’s diehard fans are sure to find this outing forgettable and disappointing.
MPAA Rating: R for language, graphic nudity, and some sexual references
Release Date: October 29, 2021
Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
Studio: Searchlight Pictures