I’d never met a Wes Anderson film I didn’t like. Bottle Rocket and Rushmore are two of the films I most frequently watch; The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel are masterpieces; his stop-motion animation stuff (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs) is killer. His heretofore least-successful film, in my mind, is The Darjeeling Limited, and I still like it a lot.
So, as I was heading to see The French Dispatch, I was figuring it couldn’t miss.
Regrettably, it missed. I’ve now met a Wes Anderson film I didn’t like.
It’s hard for a fanboy like me to admit I didn’t like a Wes Anderson movie, and I fought hard to care about this movie throughout its running time. His films have always contained eccentric Wes Anderson-esque moments, like slow-motion shots, or strange tableaus. Alas, The French Dispatch is full of Wes Anderson affectations and very little actual story. It feels like self-parody. This is a total shame, because the cast is stellar, including Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Timothee Chalamet, Benicio Del Toro, and even old Anderson standby Owen Wilson. It’s a bunch of great performers posing in a big, unexciting, expensive dollhouse.
The movie is three shorts strung together under the theme of looking back at a New Yorker-style publication after its editor (Murray) has died. The stories we see all ran in his magazine. The first story is the best, with Del Toro as an insane prisoner who has taken up painting. In fact, Anderson could’ve probably done the whole film on him and dropped the publication theme.
The second involves Chalamet and McDormand in some sort of student protest drama that has zero sense of direction or meaning. The last has Jeffrey Wright and Edward Norton in a kidnapping drama that includes a nifty animated sequence that seems inspired by New Yorker artwork. It’s one of the few times the film truly comes to life.
There are moments of major creativity, but everything just doesn’t come together. Also, the film is missing one Anderson trademark: He, along with Martin Scorsese, is one of the great directors when it comes to setting sequences to popular music. That never really happens here, and if you are going to be Anderson-esque with the visuals, you might as well stick to your shtick and play around with the tunes.
There are few directors who have made more than 10 films without making a bad one. Going into The French Dispatch, I considered Anderson and the Coen Brothers as acclaimed directors on that very short list. Spielberg has made a handful of bad movies; even Scorsese has made a few. Now, just the Coens are still standing.
The French Dispatch is now playing at Mary Pickford Is D’Place (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City); the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage); and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert).