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Non-Review Review: The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch is a sweet and sincere love letter to a certain kind of journalistic endeavour, and to the creative process beyond that. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly disjointed and uneven.

To be fair, these structural problems come with the format. Wes Anderson has constructed his latest film as an anthology, one loosely designed to mirror the flow of a magazine like The New Yorker. The film is comprised of an opening obituary, a travellogue, and three short stories, all designed to emulate the structure of reading a classic journalistic magazine. It’s an interesting and ambitious approach to structuring a movie, one not without challenges and one that allows Anderson the opportunity to lean into his already heightened sensibility.

That is a lot of Wes Anderson.

However, as with many anthology films, The French Dispatch suffers from an unevenness in terms of pacing. As one might expect from an anthology directed by a filmmaker as distinctive as Anderson, The French Dispatch does maintain a consistent tone across its various elements, but it also suffers from stopping and starting five times over. It doesn’t help that each of the three stories flows in much the same way, playing on many of the same tropes of Anderson’s storytelling, starting with Anderson’s signature arch detachment and inevitably puncturing it with small glimpses of humanity.

The appeal of a magazine like the fictional French Dispatch is a diversity of voices and perspectives. The film positions itself as a celebration of the individual journalists relating their stories to the audience, finding their own ways into these narratives and sharing something over themselves with the world. However, while the film does afford some shading of the characters themselves in the framing sections and within the narrative, the stories themselves all feel like they are cut from the same clothe. They are even similar in stylistic terms, mostly shot in black-and-white Academy ratio, occasionally breaking that for dramatic effect.

Stu(dent)ing resentment…

To be fair, this isn’t a fatal problem. Anderson remains a director with a strong aesthetic and keen sense of humour. His worlds are elaborately constructed, both rich and textured. For all that Anderson’s rigid formalism can seem twee or arch, his films are often possessed of a real heart, one that is all the more effective for sneaking up on the audience through these otherwise carrefully composed surroundings and often caricatured characters. The French Dispatch is no different. It is a film with charm to spare, and with a genuine heart beneath it.

Still, for all that The French Dispatch is a celebration of artistic freedom and discovery, and a passionate argument for an editorial hand the encourages distinct voices and approaches over one that imposes a consistent style, by the time the third story is finished, it feels too much the work of a singular voice working a familiar framework.

The Wright stuff.

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