The French Dispatch (2021) ☆☆☆1/2 (3.5/4): Lovely newspaper tales a la Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s latest film “The French Dispatch” feels like reading a fine copy of some smart and sophisticated urban magazine. As serving us everything we can expect from Anderson, the movie shows Anderson being at the top of his distinctive mastery of mood, style, and attitude as he previously did in “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014), and I frequently found myself quite charmed and amused by those humorous offbeat moments in the film during my viewing.

Mainly consisting of five different parts, the movie opens with the part showing the bittersweet end of an American newspaper called, yes, the French Dispatch. Since it was founded by a Midwestern American named Arthur Howtizer Jr. (Bill Murray) in some small French town, the French Dispatch has flourished during next several decades under Howtizer’s editorship which supported many different colorful staff writers, but, alas, its era now comes to end with his sudden death just because Howtizer, who is incidentally based on New Yorker co-founder Harold Ross, already made it clear in his will that the French Dispatch should be shut down after his death.

The movie subsequently delves into the main contents of the last edition of the French dispatch one by one, and the first one involves with an eccentric travel write named Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), who is based on New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell. As the movie busily hops from one shot to another, Sazerac enthusiastically shows us here and there in the aforementioned French town, and this part effectively sets the overall comic tone for the following parts to come.

The second one is presented by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), who has lots of things to tell about a certain set of unconventional paintings from a convict artist named Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro). Before being incarcerated for a very violent act of killing, Rosenthaler showed some artistic potential as a painter, but he stopped drawing for his next 10 years in prison, and then, what do you know, he suddenly came to resume his artistic activity for no apparent reason. Although his several works did not draw much attention at first, they eventually draw the attention of a fellow prisoner who happens to be an art dealer, and that consequently leads to considerable fame and reputation for Rosenthaler, though he remains incarcerated as usual.

While generating some naughty laughs from the uneasy partnership between Rosenthaler and his art dealer, the movie also focuses on the odd romantic/professional relationship between Rosenthaler and a young female prison guard named Simone (Léa Seydoux). In addition to being Rosenthaler’s persona guard, Simone willingly lets herself function as his muse and enabler, but she often puts some distance between herself and Rosenthaler, and she makes her position perfectly clear to him during a little funny private scene between them. Looking quite mismatched from the beginning, del Toro and Seydoux ably complement each other as a sort of Beauty and the Beast, and Adrien Brody provides some extra humor around them as Rosenthaler’s neurotic art dealer.

The third one is presented by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), a middle-aged female journalist who happens to get involved with a bunch of young college revolutionaries including a lad named Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet). Although their first encounter via Zeffirelli’s parents is rather awkward to say the least, Krementz subsequently finds herself getting quite closer to Zeffirelli, and she gets an opportunity for the closer observation on the political activities of Zeffirelli and his comrades including his girlfriend Juliette (Lyna Khoudri), but she still keeps trying to maintain some distance between her and Zeffirelli, even when things later become quite more serious for everyone.

Although this part is the weakest one in the film in my inconsequential opinion, Anderson, who wrote the screenplay along with Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman, and his crew members keep things rolling as usual. Thanks to editor Andrew Weisblum and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman, the movie smoothly moves among several different visual textures and screen ratios, and the resulting eclectic style is further enhanced by the commendable efforts from production designer Adam Stockhausen, costume designer Milena Canonero, and composer Alexandre Desplat.

The fourth one is presented by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), a food journalist who is more or less than the amalgamation of James Baldwin and A. J. Liebling. His article is about one very eventful evening when he was simply supposed to enjoy a special private dinner with the police chief of the town, and I can only tell you that the movie virtually goes all the way for lots of stylish exaggeration once that special event is unexpectedly interrupted by a sudden emergency. As Jeffrey Wright dutifully holds the ground as required, a bunch of diverse performers including Mathieu Amalric, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Saoirse Ronan, and Willem Dafoe willingly let themselves become many different dolls to be utilized by Anderson, and the special mention goes to Stephen Park, who has his own little priceless moment to shine around the end of the segment.

Overall, “The French Dispatch” is another typical dollhouse playing by Anderson, but it is still quite enjoyable thanks to not only its indelible mood and dexterous storytelling but also all these colorful performers assembled together for the film. Sure, we can say that Anderson virtually repeats himself only with more dolls and sets, but, as usual, he gladly shares his own fun and amusement with us from the beginning to the end, and that is more than enough for me at present.

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