REVIEW: ‘The French Dispatch’ is a delightful dramedy

Rock Chalk meets French culture in this new film from Wes Anderson.

“The French Dispatch” refers to an insert section for the Evening Sun newspaper in Liberty, Kansas. In the movie, a situation happens where the French dispatch will have to suspend production.

For the last publication, the paper republishes three important articles written by a trio of reporters. The film from there with an anthology approach, following how each reporter researched and interviewed for the stories.

From journalism school to working for an outlet, one learns that reporting is all about storytelling. Everyone has a story, and the interesting characters you can come across in journalism is endless.

It’s also true that the longer one works in reporting, the more they come to believe truth is stranger than fiction. That’s the reality of being a reporter, and in that sense, it seemed rather fitting that this movie about journalists was done by director and writer Wes Anderson.

The quirky style of filmmaking Anderson brings to the table and the extensive list of intriguing characters is very true to how journalism can be, especially when it comes to feature writing.

Despite having an unorthodox approach, Anderson delivers a film with a level of authenticity to the subject at hand in “The French Dispatch.” As a result, there are elements of the movie that remain grounded, so the more dramatic elements can still resonate with an audience.

Just as articles in a newspaper or magazine can vary greatly from page to page, “The French Dispatch” takes viewers into three stories that are all notably different from each other. Those three chapters, plus a brief introduction scene with Owen Wilson’s character, take viewers on captivating stories with plenty of Anderson’s trademark humor along the way.

FrenchDispatchBlog
Courtesy Searchlight Pictures.

It is true that not all of the three sections are on equal footing. In terms of quality, the film’s final story, told from the perspective of writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), is the strongest, followed by the piece by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) and finally, the story by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand).

That’s not to say any of the three stories are bad, just that the story by Wright, which follows a the kidnapping of a police chief’s son on the night of a dinner, which was to be prepared by a famous chef was the frontrunner. The section of the movie is exciting, funny, and even touching, both because of the parental relationship factor and the last quotes Wright gets from the chef.

Berensen’s story, meanwhile, is about a convicted murderer (Benicio Del Toro) who becomes a famous painter in prison. It’s an intriguing segment about art interpretation, featuring a strange but interesting subplot about a guard who becomes a muse (Lea Seydoux) and humor in a comical art dealer (Arien Brody).

The middle material is simply less memorable than the bookending pieces. The story, which is about students protesting at a school, doesn’t capture attention as well as the other two.

As previously said, though, none of the three stories are particularly weak. What certainly helped keep the movie enjoyable from start to finish was the cast, loaded with Academy Award winners and nominees. Everyone brought their A game, as expected with an Anderson picture.

Speaking of Anderson, he also wrote a really good screenplay. The dialogue is snappy, brings some laughs and keep a viewer engaged.

“The French Dispatch” does sag a bit in the middle and it feels a bit too long, for example the brief segment with Owen Wilson probably could have been trimmed. Still, this is an enjoyable entry in Anderson’s filmography, with rich writing, compelling stories, a good variety of characters, strong acting, and a delightful mix of visuals.

Higher score from me, but I’m probably bias as a reporter. The irony. 4 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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