J’adore “The French Dispatch”

Wes Anderson’s journalist anthology combines all of the director’s best traits

Alex Okabayashi, Guest Writer

Lyna Khoudri, Frances McDormand, and Timothée Chalamet in Wes Anderson’s latest movie, The French Dispatch. (Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

It has been a long time coming.

“The French Dispatch” was unfortunately among a long list of films that were pushed back because of the pandemic, having been originally slated for a wide release in July 2020. Since it’s hiatus, Anderson’s quirky retelling of “The New Yorker” has taken up a whole new sensibility about its emigrated writers. 

The pandemic’s border closures have kept Americans clamoring to get outside of the US, desperate to get back out into the world and experience different cultures as our borders just opened back up on November 9th. 

The film begins by introducing the death of the editor (played by frequent collaborator Bill Murray) from the newsroom “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun,” a reimagining of popular magazine “The New Yorker.” In his obituary, the militant writer asks that three of his favorite articles be republished in a farewell issue, pairing his death alongside the newspaper’s publication status.

In these final stories, the film stars French characters in the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé (which translates to “boredom-on-apathy”) that are largely based off of the characters from stories published by real Americans from “The New Yorker” who emigrated to France during pivotal moments in the country’s history, such as the 1968 student riots in Paris.

As Anderson’s 10th film, many critics have called this his most self-indulgent effort yet. The characters spew rapid-fire dialogue with eloquence that is almost unrealistically witty as they move from one immaculately framed set piece to the next. Composer Alexandre Desplat and music supervisor Randall Poster offer yet another delightfully whimsical score by injecting this world with playful harps and tubas to further immerse the audience into Anderson’s world.

While this film has many familiar sensibilities, the director has improved from his previous work as well. Straying away from the so-called “non-accommodating bilingualism” of “Isle of Dogs,” the mix of French and English languages are captioned with syllable-based yellow subtitles that prance around the frame. 

Anderson uses this method especially in the sequences featuring Lyna Khourdri and Zeffirelli, played by Algerian phenom Khourdri and the rebellious, stage-toting heartthrob Timotheé Chalamet. 

Their chemistry, while brief in screen-time, adds a youthful spark amongst the anthology’s older cast of characters.

 Jeffrey Wright, an actor who is mostly known for playing excellent supporting roles, leads the film’s last entry in “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” as Roebuck Wright.  

According to Anderson, Wright is a composite of the legendary French emigrant writer James Baldwin and journalist A.J. Liebling. Wright embodies Baldwin’s posh sophistication and preppy step to a tee as he takes the audience on a wildly nocturnal ride.

This section separates itself from the other three stories with its 1970s talk show backdrop. Wright recounts an outlandish dinner gone wrong that leads to an enthralling animation sequence that could have been ripped from an “Adventures of TinTin” comic. 

Many believe Wright may finally have an Oscar on the way for his subtle but scene-stealing coolness that made Baldwin such an intriguing figure.

There have been other recent re-imaginings of the “American aboard” narrative, such as the critically-acclaimed album“Call Me If You Get Lost” by Tyler, the Creator that was released on June 25th, 2021. 

While the Hawthorne rapper was invited to early promotional screenings of the film, Tyler’s visuals for the album are also quite reminiscent of both Anderson and of French filmmakers like Robert Bresson. 

The music videos showcase grainy textures, aquatic color palettes, and symmetrical framing that look like something out of “L’Argent.” Tyler brings his typical playfulness and charm to these visuals, but his production value and vision has rapidly developed into a clearly different form since his “Cherry Bomb” days back in 2016. 

“The French Dispatch” is a  kind of film that makes viewers want to look back at all the good times they have spent abroad (or planned to), with every outlandish detail being thrown right into it. The sheer content of the stories can be a bit overwhelming on first watch, but after such a tumultuous year and a half, it might have been just what moviegoers needed.