Jed Blaugrund | Review: ‘The French Dispatch’ is pretty… boring
“The French dispatch”
Directed by Wes Anderson
Rated R (Language; Graphic nudity; Some sexual references)
Starts today at Laemmle Newhall and Regal Edwards Valencia
Wes Anderson makes very specific films for very specific audiences. Above all, you have to have a general level of comfort with the twee, a sort of sickening kindness that infuriates some and catnip for others. You also have to come to terms with the fact that Anderson knows more about popular and literary culture than you do, and he’s ready to demonstrate how he can make you feel inadequate and out of touch with upper-class civilization. For some it is a learning experience and for others it is a condescending one-upmanship.
Finally, you prefer your visual compositions to be symmetrical; he is a filmmaker who positions every aspect of the frame and what it contains using the most precise of laser tape measures.
Personally, I look forward to Wes Anderson’s films. No other modern filmmaker has such a specific style; any image from any of his films will instantly identify him as his hand and eye. I also find that I am educated rather than alienated by his countless obscure allusions. That said, Anderson’s work is hardly infallible. His two animated films, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Isle of Dogs” were both too long and boring, and he has been rightly accused of emphasizing style over substance, especially emotional substance. As a result, his films are generally downright cold.
Alas, “The French Dispatch” is closer to its two animated productions in overall quality than its masterpieces “Rushmore” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. In other words, her new movie is bloated, surprisingly boring, and even more emotionally withdrawn than usual. Don’t step into this movie expecting to feel anything other than the wonder of Anderson’s usual jaw-dropping production design by Adam Stockhausen and artful cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman.
The film is a compilation of three short stories that all appeared in The French Dispatch, a fictional magazine inspired by The New Yorker and its colorful menagerie of feature articles and authors. It starts with a bang as Angelica Huston tells a hilarious, kinetic story of the magazine, of its eccentric founder and editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. is based. The first 10 minutes of the movie are as funny and quick as anything Anderson has ever done. From there, the film ends in its series of three short stories.
This first is the most engaging with Benicio del Toro as a violently mad but brilliant painter, Léa Seydoux as a prison-museum guard and Adrien Brody as a merciless art dealer. Anderson is adamant in his satirical approach to tortured artists and the pseudo-intellectual world of art collecting. The grand finale of the story is particularly impressive as the arrogant world of the geek meets the bricks and bats of the long-term incarcerated in an absurd and hilarious tableau that only Anderson could have successfully concocted.
Unfortunately, the other two stories offer fewer rewards. In the second story, Timothée Chalamet is utterly empty and boring as a reactionary student protesting against one thing or another, and Frances McDormand is unusually wooden as a journalist who personally becomes entangled with the student’s phantom causes. . The third story of a wonderful chef and his involvement in the kidnapping of a young boy is also disappointing and too long. At the end of the film’s run, we hope there won’t be a fourth story to tell.
Wes Anderson’s films are generally so rhythmic and lively, but the stunning production design and inventive photography cannot stand the stagnant narratives that encompass two-thirds of “The French Dispatch”. Ultimately, the movie is – dare I say it? – boring. And unlike his best films which have some sort of compelling central character and emotional attraction (albeit a limited one), there’s really nothing to cling to here. Part of the problem lies in the structure of the film’s short story, but even in this format, a little entrenched interest and emotional investment from the audience isn’t too much to ask of a filmmaker.
This time around, Anderson’s movie isn’t just freezing cold; it’s almost frozen.
Jed Blaugrund is an English teacher at West Ranch High School and a resident of Stevenson Ranch. Before becoming a teacher, he graduated from USC School of Cinema / Television and worked for over 20 years in the film industry.