The French Dispatch | Movie Review

In the world of movie reviewers, I try to be someone who fits in. I started doing this because I’m such a movie fan, and sometimes I write something that makes sense.

But again, like everyone else, I want to be accepted and always look like I belong. So, upon hearing about Wes Anderson’s new film “The French Dispatch,” I knew I needed to kick it up a notch. I went back to “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Isle of Dogs” – all films directed by Anderson. In fact, I was a bit cocky and proud I’d seen so many of his movies.

Looking back through my mental notes, the words “quirky, weird, witty, fast-paced and visually stunning” came to mind. Indeed, most Anderson films that I have seen are all this and then some.

However, there are times I’ve watched his films and most likely had a puzzled look on my face. I hide it well, because I don’t want to stick out and be thought an imposter.

So I went into “The French Dispatch” knowing I needed to be on my toes and at full attention. I immediately was taken in by the witty and fast-paced narration of Anjelica Huston but also immediately felt my head spinning.

The movie follows the demise of fictional magazine editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), who heads a little publishing outpost in Ennui-sur-Blase, France, where a Sunday supplement of the fictional Kansas Evening Sun is published.

Howitzer is surrounded by a gaggle of artsy, eccentric writers who write equally artsy, eccentric stories. The subjects of their stories are quirky and strange, and there are moments of fun, clarity and tenderness, to name a few positives.

Also of note is the huge and stellar cast Anderson seems to always provide us. Leading players Timothee Chalamet, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Benicio del Toro, Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson, Lyna Khoudri and Jeffrey Wright are joined by over-qualified supporting players Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric, Elisabeth Moss, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens, Bob Balaban, Steve Park, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Griffin Dunne, Kate Winslet, Alex Lawther and the lovely, always phenomenal Lois Smith.

Add to this a large group of “known to many” international film stars, and you have a cast that seems so fully equipped that there is no room for failure. Add to this the wonderful visual stunts of symmetry and eye-popping color use, plus humorous little spurts here and there.

You keep hoping things will slow down a bit, make sense and keep your interest.

But after a while, the visual wonders, the star-studded cast, and the quirkiness is just not enough to hold your interest.

The four vignettes, based on stories one might see in The New Yorker, are so crammed full of action and dialogue that it’s sometimes impossible to stay interested and (gulp) awake. Sometimes it is too fast and sometimes it is mind-numbingly slow. I couldn’t even begin to explain the plot, if there even is one.

Anderson fans will call me a hick and a hayseed, but I’d venture to say that even diehard fans will find this offering a little on the confusing side. Still, the cast coupled with Anderson’s great admiration for the persona of The New Yorker make you keep watching and wishing to be part of the inside joke they all seem to be in on.

Fun to see on the big screen, just for the visuals and your film favorites. Plus, I’d guess I might understand more if I saw it a second time. But I wouldn’t pay for a second ticket, I’m afraid.

My grade: C+

The French Dispatch is in theaters now and runs 1 hour and 43 minutes. The film is rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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