Wes Anderson's 'The French Dispatch' Is Another Meticulously Styled Delight

Yes, his new movie IS 'New Yorker' fanfiction.

the french dispatch elisabeth moss tilda swinton owen wilson
Searchlight Pictures
Searchlight Pictures

To say that Wes Anderson is one of the few directors working today with a blaringly distinct style would not be a stretch, and to say that his style keeps getting more and more Wes Anderson-y as he goes would be a similarly true statement. Every time a movie of his comes out, it feels like "the most Wes Anderson film yet," and, true to tradition, The French Dispatch, his new film about the fictional exploits of a band of expatriate magazine reporters, is possibly his most condensed (in the milk sense) and reduced (in the soup sense) version of his personal style, a playful, wryly funny, richly imagined delight to the senses, with an improbably large collection of our greatest acting talent flitting through a series of vignettes you almost wish would never end.

The film begins with a death. The beloved editor (Bill Murray) of The French Dispatch, the foreign bureau of a fictional publication based out of a building situated in the middle of a Kansas cornfield, has kicked the bucket, and his cadre of writers are assembling one final issue of their magazine to be published in honor of him. We launch promptly into a series of tales, including: a travelogue of the fictional city in which the Dispatch is based, the impishly named Ennui-sur-Blasé (oh, come on), directed by a bike pedaling Owen Wilson; the history of a famous art piece commissioned from an incarcerated painter (Benicio del Toro); a dramatization of a student protest that swiftly turns tragically violent, starring Timothée Chalamet as an Eraserhead-haired youth and Frances McDormand as his journalist confidante; and an account from a food writer (Jeffrey Wright) of a celebrated chef (Stephen Park) who foils a dastardly kidnapping.

the french dispatch timothee chalamet frances mcdormand
Searchlight Pictures

It's all laid out in meticulous detail, down to the buttons on actors' sweater vests, the paintings and pamphlets lining office walls, and the bags of coffee stacked to the ceiling of a lemon-yellow café (and the bouncy score by Alexandre Desplat, natch). It demands every facet of your attention, and the cast is so large (Tilda Swinton! Adrien Brody! Léa Seydoux! Mathieu Amalric! Willem Dafoe!) and populated by so many Anderson regulars, you will find yourself wishing a few of them—particularly Saoirse Ronan and Elisabeth Moss—had more to do, even though they kill the few scenes they have. Anderson's dollhouse-esque sense of absolute control is in full display here, though it feels, as it has felt in a few of his recent movies, as if he's winking at himself along with the rest of us. It takes an air of self-awareness to saddle your characters with names like "Herbsaint Sazerac" and "Roebuck Wright." For those who aren't on board with his particular style, well—this will not win you over. But you probably already knew that.

The French Dispatch is, to put it succinctly, Wes Anderson's New Yorker fanfiction, an ode to a favorite publication, to tangible storytelling that you can hold in your hands, the writers that create it, and the editors behind the scenes who encourage it all to happen. If the New Yorker connection wasn't clear enough by the end, one action sequence completely animated in the flat-toned, bold-lined style of the magazine's traditional cover art seals the deal. The whole thing is markedly low stakes (with the exception of one middle section), so much so that the unexpectedly touching nature of the ending sneaks up on you. It's about writing and being a writer—one character's storytelling tendencies are described as "poetic (in a bad way)"—as much as it is about using film to bring words to life. Wes Anderson can't go back in time to France in the '60s and '70s and start a magazine full of arts and fashion and riveting news and travel and cuisine that will be read the world over. But, then again, he kind of can.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.