To watch a Wes Anderson film is to watch actors having fun. Recall “ The Grand Budapest Hotel” ( 2014) . In his tenth feature film, Anderson allows campy, piecemeal antics to somewhat cover-up his paean to ex-patriot journalists. In other words, don’t expect a Hallelujah Chorus: some of the story gets lost. And plot, there really isn’t one. In “ The French Dispatch”, newspaper structure holds the whimsy together. New Yorker’s founding editor, Harold Ross, and his Kansas staff are celebrated in the credits.
Our locale is a fictional French city, Ennui-sur-Blase. Funny in itself. Newspaper editor, Arthur Howitzer, Jr. ( Bill Murray as Harold Ross) in his last will and testament, assigns three well-received past feature articles and his obituary as his paper’s farewell and final edition . Even in death, Howitzer’s editorial dictums: “ Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose” and “ No crying” in the office hold. Writers were his people, and he would not cut an article. Along this line, Anderson’s movie itself is two hours long.
The ensemble cast is long, too. Owen Wilson is a staff cycling travel writer and Angelica Huston is the film’s narrator for the goings-on at “ The Liberty Kansas Evening Sun”. Alexandre Desplat does the musical score which is heavy on the bassoon and tuba until we get to Theodosius Monk’s resonant jazz and the celebration of good journalism at the film’s end.
Our first feature is printed in The Arts & Artists section. Benicio Del Toro is Moses Rosenthaler, insane asylum artist. Anderson uses his usual 90 degree camera angle to let Del Toro lshow us who he is. We are made to feel like we are the interviewer seated right in front of Benicio, a straight-jacketed, French Splatter Proof Group artist, who paints and repaints a nude policewoman, Simone ( Lea Seydoux ). She raps him hard when he smudges paint on her body’s g-zone.
How crazy is Moses really? After violent dismemberment charges were filed for his decapitating two bartenders ( off screen) , he signs up for “ clay pottery and basketweaving” to express his artistic side. Moses then proposes to guard Simone as our narrator ( Angelica Huston) tells us “ some women gravitate to incarcerated men”. Moses , in repose, spends much time staring at the ceiling’s mold spots and seeing art.
Next, comes actors Adrien Brody and Henry Winkler. Brody plays Julien Cadazio, an unscrupulous art dealer and gallery owner. He sees Moses’ work in the “ Demented & Deranged” section of the asylum. Moses Rosenthaler’s art is “discovered” ! Now, pigeon blood and petrol his medium.
As the nonsense goes on, we see fresco fights and peelings that are described as the “ best contemplation of peripheral vision” ever seen.
In the Politics & Poetry Section we have a story with Timothee Chalamet , Saoirse Ronan, and Frances McDormand. Chalamet writes a manifesto for male student rights to enter girl’s dormitories. Between month long protests, chessboard games , and riots, McDormand’s deadpan lines are memorable: “The children are grumpy”, “ I prefer relationships that end.” And my favorite: “ This isn’t the first manifesto I have proofed.” And “Journalistic neutrality maintained!” Tongue-in-cheek fun.
In the Crime Section vignette, William DaFoe is jailed for the kidnapping of a commissar’s six year-old son. The boy’s first words were in Morse Code, and Morse Code is how he saves himself. An animated car chase befuddles this scene. Maybe, it is cheaper to film in animated, cartoon style.
In the Taste Section, we have the aromas of great chefs like “ kidney poached with plums from the arbor”. The food writer speaks of “ the sad beauty of a table set for a solitary feast.”
Elizabeth Moss pleads for the reporters to write their editor’s obit. together. Jeffrey Wright , as ex. pat. James Baldwin, gives another long rambling talk for humor, as does Tilda Swinton as art lecturer, a tip of the hat to Rosamond Bernier, again of “New Yorker” fame.
One reviewer called “ The French Dispatch” “a hodgepodge of pleasure”. I knew little about the journalists listed in the credits: Mavis Gallant and Lucinda Krementz . The film has a lot to take-in “ attractive wastrels” all. Anderson’s silly throw away lines are the best: “For every note he sings, a peasant must die in East Africa”. “ Poetic, not necessarily in a bad way.” “ I have a typographic memory.” A typographic memory is needed in reviewing a film like this one! Remember that these actors had fun and you may, too.