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Missed Connection

Wes Anderson’s new film The French Dispatch delivers plenty of style but lacks substance


Searchlight Pictures

Missed Connection
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Sometimes with a piece of art, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Unfortunately, Aristotle’s words don’t describe the newly released movie The French Dispatch.

The film is the latest from the critically acclaimed director/writer Wes Anderson whose memorable contributions to filmdom include Rushmore, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Royal Tenenbaums. While his latest work has received much critical praise, including a nine-minute ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, viewers may be left wondering if the critics were truly celebrating the film or the celebrity of its creator.

None of this to say that The French Dispatch is a bad movie. The film is an anthology that pays homage to traditional print journalism by telling three separate stories that take place in a fictitious town in France in the early 1960s. The stories are delivered from the viewpoints of the three journalists who wrote the pieces and who work for a Kansas-based magazine (clearly meant as a tip of the hat to The New Yorker). The plots for each vignette are quintessential Anderson: somewhat bizarre, full of unusual characters, and tinged with his signature dark and quirky humor.

Anderson again creates his peculiar and surreal world through his precision in detail and distinctive cinematography, including using black-and-white, split screens, and animation. The famed director also gathered together an impressive cast of A-list actors (8 Academy Award winners and 8 Academy Award nominees), including familiar faces from his previous films. The ensemble includes Frances McDormand playing Lucinda Krementz, a journalist who romances the young revolutionary she is writing about; Tilda Swinton as writer J.K.L. Berenson, who covers an artist who becomes famous while in prison; and long-time Anderson cohort Bill Murray in the role of Arthur Howitzer Jr., the founder and editor of The French Dispatch.

But for all its good pieces, The French Dispatch lacks the two things that all great films contain: a coherent story and characters that viewers care about. Maybe it was the anthological format or maybe Anderson just tried to do too much, but the film is confusing at times and lacks a depth of meaning found in Anderson’s other films.

The film is rated R for language, some sexual references, and a scene that includes prolonged nudity as a woman is having her portrait painted.

Anderson is no doubt a very talented artist, yet as with a work of modern art, viewers of The French Dispatch might not be able to tell what it is supposed to be.

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