Good News, by Bob Connally

22 Oct

The French Dispatch is the 10th feature film directed by Wes Anderson and you know by now whether or not you like his movies. If you don’t then this one will certainly not change that so if that’s you, then feel free to move along. However, if you’re like me and there’s nothing funnier to you than Gene Hackman criticizing his young (“adopted”) daughter’s play as “just a bunch of little kids dressed in animal costumes,” then you are in for top tier Anderson. Rushmore will probably always be my favorite as it’s a movie with a place in my heart few other films have but The French Dispatch – at least based on this first viewing – is up way up there with the likes of The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel. It has everything you expect and want from a Wes Anderson film but, more importantly, he delivers all of those things about as well as he ever has.

The film opens with news of the 1975 death of Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray, but don’t worry, he’s all over this film). Howitzer was the editor-in-chief of The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, a largely unread section of a small town newspaper. His instructions upon his death are for publication of the paper to cease immediately and for all equipment to be “liquefied.” The film is set during Howitzer’s final days as, unbeknownst to him and his loyal staff, they are contributing to The French Dispatch’s final issue.

Anderson (who shares story by credits with Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman) divides his film into sections, just as a news magazine would. Some of the stories are brief (Owen Wilson riding a bike through the fictional town of Ennui, France where all stories are set) while others tell tales that span several years (Benicio del Toro as an artist living in an asylum for the criminally insane). Happily, each story is entertaining and filled with the kind of unique snappy dialogue that Anderson excels at, delivered by actors who are clearly thrilled to be a part of it all. Another section involves a youth revolt led by students Zeffirelli (Timothee Chalamet) and Juliet (Lyna Khoudri), with some manifesto editing done by Dispatch writer Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand). The final portion stars Jeffrey Wright as a food journalist who relates the wild tale of a kidnapping and the attempted rescue of a young boy.

While each portion of the film has a lot to love, it’s the story involving del Toro’s character that is the funniest and most chock full of great lines of dialogue. Adrien Brody, Lea Seydoux, and Tilda Swinton all shine brightly here and are incredibly funny. As with every other part of The French Dispatch, Anderson switches between color and black and white, sometimes mid-scene and seemingly on a whim but it somehow never feels gimmicky or distracting. At one point, live-action even gives way to an animated action sequence but it all feels correct. To paraphrase Arthur Howitzer, Jr., Anderson makes it seem like he shot it that way on purpose.

In the later parts of the film, Jeffrey Wright is the biggest standout, delivering some truly extraordinary lines with aplomb and revealing the underlying sadness to the life of a traveling reporter. There’s a moment where he addresses the loneliness of the life he has chosen and it’s probably what will stick with people the most after seeing this film. Wright is possibly the best he’s ever been here and he fits in perfectly with Anderson’s style.

This was originally intended to come out in the summer of 2020 but, like so many other movies, it’s arriving more than a year later. In this case it was definitely worth the wait. This is a fun, hilarious, and delightful movie that will make fans of Wes Anderson incredibly happy.

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