The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch Is Wes Anderson’s Most Wes Anderson Movie Yet

Dept. of Franco-American Whimsy


Your enjoyment of The French Dispatch is highly dependent on two things: how much you love Wes Anderson and how much you love The New Yorker magazine. If you are a fan of Wes Anderson and his sharp, symmetrical, and severe style, if you believe that The New Yorker represents the pinnacle of American journalism, then this movie is right up your alley. It is crafted to within an inch of its life. It is literary. It is unashamedly hagiographic. It is the most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson movie that Wes Anderson has ever made. So much so that you would think it a caricature if it wasn’t pulled off with such flamboyance and confidence.

The French Dispatch or, to use its full title, The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, is both a loving homage and an ingenious deconstruction of The New Yorker magazine, its philosophy and methodology, its quirks and eccentricities, what it means and everything it stands for. In this movie, the publication in question is an American periodical, based in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé (which translates to boredom-on-apathy), that began its life as the pet project of one Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray), before eventually evolving into the kind of cult product that the hyper-literate use to distinguish themselves from the riffraff who call themselves “readers.”

An anthology of sorts, the movie centers around three distinct tales (and one scene-setting “Talk of the Town”-esque travelogue), each one a live action recreation of a feature article by one of The French Dispatch’s star writers. Anderson utilizes every tool in his arsenal to tell these stories. They are in colour and black and white. There is animation. There are still lifes. There are slapstick gags and visual puns. And they are all strung together with a very specific sense of nostalgia – one rooted in Anderson’s obsession with America’s literary and journalistic roots – and Alexandre Desplat’s whimsical score.

Arts and Artists

The French Dispatch

Let me be clear, this is a movie that only Wes Anderson could have made. The French Dispatch feels personal. It feels born from an infatuation – one that borders on fetishism – with artifacts of Americana, both physical and mental, both real and imagined. What’s more, by framing the movie from a French point of view, he adds and additional layer of subtext to his narrative.

And there are many, many layers here.

This isn’t a movie about the people who work at The French Dispatch. This is a movie about the stories that those people have chosen to tell as writers, elevating the lives of the citizens of Ennui-sur-Blasé, and bringing some literary sparkle to their otherwise humdrum existence. It is, in a way, is a reflection of what Anderson himself is doing with this movie, by using the stories of others in order to channel his own personal obsessions.

Tastes and Smells

The French Dispatch

The writing here is beyond reproach. Every story is an extraordinary juggling act that manages to sustain character, action, plot, and narrative tension, without ever sacrificing its sense of mystery throughout.

The final story in this anthology is a pristine example of this. It tells of the writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) – a character loosely based on both James Baldwin and A.J. Liebling – and his efforts to profile a legendary chef named Nescaffier (Steve Park), who works his culinary magic in the kitchen of the Ennui-sur-Blasé police department. It is, all at once, a biography of a master chef, the story of a kidnapping, a look into the city’s police force and criminal underworld, and a nuanced meditation into the inner lives of everyone involved. It is framed by way of a talk show, features a shootout and a car chase, all while putting forth a potent message about the isolation and loneliness that comes with being an outsider.

It is a brilliantly constructed vignette and one that personifies everything we’ve come to love about Wes Anderson and his work.

Local Colour

The French Dispatch

Disappointingly, my one criticism of the movie is that it lacks the emotional heft of some of Anderson’s earlier works. It isn’t quite as intimate as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or The Darjeeling Limited. Neither is it as playful as Fantastic Mr. Fox or Isle of Dogs. It isn’t as good as The Royal Tenenbaums.

The French Dispatch feels a lot like one of those showcase homes. It is clean. Everything is where it should be. It is beautiful to look at. There are no rough edges here. And while it possesses a charm of its own, it is nevertheless just a little too pristine to feel lived in.

The fact is that there is no one left who makes movies like this. With as much care and attention. With such a signature style. Where everything in every frame serves the narrative.

The French Dispatch is the dictionary definition of a Wes Anderson movie. And while it may not be his best work, I for one am incredibly thankful that we are blessed with of these works of art every few years or so.

Note: The French Dispatch is littered with literary Easter Eggs, none of which affect the plot in any way, but are nevertheless incredibly fun to discover and pick apart.

The French Dispatch is now showing in the following GSC cinemas: Aurum Theatre – The Gardens Mall, GSC Mid Valley, GSC 1 Utama, GSC Tropicana Gardens Mall, GSC IOI City Mall – Putrajaya, GSC Gurney Plaza, GSC Dataran Pahlawan – Melaka, GSC Ipoh Parade, GSC Paradigm Mall – Johor, GSC The Spring – Kuching, and GSC Imago Mall – Kota Kinabalu.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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