At this point in time, the style of Wes Anderson has become a whole genre in and of itself, typified by pastel-coloured stories of vibrancy, performed by Hollywood’s brightest stars, each captured with an extraordinary focus on symmetrical photography. This style has remained unchanged since the release of his debut film, Bottle Rocket, in 1996, and 25 years later the same stories, actors and photographic inspiration is reused. Granted, it’s a style that has been refined and most certainly continues to charm and bewilder, though perhaps it’s also one that is beginning to grow tired.
The French Dispatch is the tenth picture of Anderson’s filmography, and, once more, it features the familiar faces of Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Willem Dafoe alongside a cast of newcomers. Thankfully, many of the recurring faces of the Anderson oeuvre are kept to one side, depicting the writers and editors of the fictional publication, The French Dispatch, that provides the headquarters for the films intellectual and creative musings.
What unfolds is a mosaic of stories, ideas and thoughts that spill off the page of the publication as if you yourself were flicking through its luxurious premium paper. Such creates a beautiful anthology of tales that are nicely brought to life as separate pieces written in The French Dispatch, though whilst they are charming short films in isolation, they miss a strong throughline to create a convincing whole.
Separated into three main stories, with the supplementation of a couple of other short tales, The French Dispatch constantly fluctuates in quality as it flicks through its varied content. Encapsulating the joy and quaint creativity of Wes Andeson’s whole filmography, the very best of these tales may indeed be the short appetiser that precedes any of the main stories, featuring the ever-endearing Owen Wilson and his poetic travels on a charming red bike. The perfect canapé to kickstart Anderson’s pleasurable journey, Wilson’s Herbsaint Sazerac takes to the streets of the fictional French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé and deconstructs its nuanced beauty from the eclectic individuals who occupy its streets to the range of animals who reclaim it at night.
A cute, compact travelogue, Owen Wilson’s short sequence is brimming with joy, a sentiment that overflows into the first central anecdote, ‘The Concrete Masterpiece’ starring Léa Seydoux, Adrien Brody and Benicio Del Toro. Following the life of an incarcerated artist who finds international acclaim thanks to the help of a fellow inmate, this is the best of three main stories thanks to its simplicity and well-fleshed out lead characters. ‘Revisions to a Manifesto’ starring Timothée Chalamet and ‘The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner’ with Jeffrey Wright follow, though neither are able to match the effortless charm of their predecessors.
Bumbling and overly-constructed, both of these tales reek of overindulgence and come across as a pastiche of Anderson’s own style, often falling short of comedic beats and narrative consistency. That which remains constant is the director’s remarkable cinematic style that continues to stun throughout the runtime of The French Dispatch, matching the beauty of The Grand Budapest Hotel with an ingenious use of space, animation and model work.
With self-evident skills in an eclectic range of filmmaking modes, it’s strange that Wes Anderson feels as though he must stick to a list of such rigid formalities, from his range of recurring cast members to his somewhat derivative stories. The French Dispatch is an endearing, if plodding, travelogue of ideas and concepts that feels more like a scrapbook rather than a cohesive complete anthology. It’s by no means an illegible effort, though it does feel like the scribblings of an artist restricted by his own creative indulgence.