‘French Dispatch’ is Wes Anderson at his most Wes Anderson

While this might be a must for the director’s fans, it’s unlikely to win converts

Brad Keefe
"The French Dispatch"

If my many years as a movie critic have taught me one thing, it’s that there’s no point in trying to convince someone who doesn’t like Wes Anderson movies to like a Wes Anderson movie.

Over 25 years and now 10 feature films, Anderson’s signature style is so distinctive, it’s unmistakable. It’s so unique, few have even attempted to emulate it. One could see a still image from a film, a typographic treatment or a color palette and probably identify it as Anderson’s work. The same could be said for his style of dialogue. Indeed, you could simply look at a cast listing without any other context and know that it was for one of Anderson's films.

The director’s latest effort, “The French Dispatch,” is perhaps the most Wes Anderson movie he’s made yet, an anthology film built around a fictitious magazine.

In true Anderson style, the full title is “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun.” The magazine is a quirky stand-in for a New Yorker-type publication, and its publisher is played by Bill Murray. Anderson uses the magazine conceit to set up an anthology around three magazine feature stories set in “Ennui, France,” which are only connected by how Wes Anderson they are.

Benicio del Toro plays an artist serving a prison sentence for murder. He paints an abstract nude of a prison guard (Léa Seydoux) that becomes hailed as a masterpiece.

Frances McDormand plays a journalist chronicling student revolutionary movements who briefly breaks her journalistic integrity and has a brief fling with the self-styled leader of one such movement (played by Timothée Chalamet).

Jeffrey Wright plays a food journalist who attends a private dinner at the home of a local police commissioner that takes an unexpected turn.

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Anderson has described “The French Dispatch” as his “love letter to journalists,” with several characters being inspired by real-life figures. As an Anderson fan with deep ties to journalism, I was obviously predisposed to love this movie. And much of it absolutely delighted me in ways only a journalist could appreciate. The bookend scenes set in the offices of The French Dispatch were a particular delight, but I realize not all audiences will be as interested in the inner workings of a magazine.

The usual craftsmanship of Anderson’s filmmaking is here, with great sets and cinematography and that signature quirk. He’s also pulled in many previous contributors (name a movie that isn’t made better by the presence of Tilda Swinton). Anderson fans won’t likely be disappointed.

However, I struggled getting on board with the anthology structure. The only real connective tissue is the French setting and the shared magazine feature framework. And while the delights of the acting, dialogue and overall off-beat nature of it all are there, these short stories aren’t all equally engaging.

It’s a must for Anderson fans, obviously, but “The French Dispatch” isn’t going to convert anyone to the world of Wes.

“The French Dispatch”

Now playing in theaters

3 stars out of 5