Starring: Benicio del Toro, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton
Director: Wes Anderson
Running Time: 108 mins
The French Dispatch is an American film about three stories that are selected to feature in the final edition of the Sunday edition of a French dispatch of a Kansas magazine.
I find it almost impossible to believe that a great director like Wes Anderson can make a film as bad as The French Dispatch.
Taking what was once a charmingly quirky cinematic style to the extreme, this pompous, pretentious mess of a film is a far cry from the director’s sharp, witty and fun-loving works of the past, delivering 108 minutes of pure, unintelligible boredom filled with clichés and not a single laugh.
We all know what makes Wes Anderson’s style so distinctive and so lovable, but The French Dispatch is a film that plays with all the superficial clichés of his films, yet none of the heart, the humour or the intelligence.
As a result, this movie feels more like a parody of a Wes Anderson movie than a film by the director himself. The story – or stories – are non-sensical, the visuals are cutesy to the extreme, and the dialogue is so pretentious and indulgent that your understanding of the English language will be tested to its limit.
Despite the fact that there really is very little going on in this movie, The French Dispatch is an incredibly difficult film to understand. The overarching themes of its three stories and the main story tying them together is just about intelligible, but the rest of the movie is simply muffled garbage.
This isn’t helped by the fact that there are barely any characters to speak of in The French Dispatch. So jam-packed with A-listers making their customary appearance in a Wes Anderson movie, the film neglects to give any time for the characters to breathe, with only the first story – starring Benicio del Toro and Léa Seydoux – offering up some genuine intrigue.
Though the almost totally uneventful and unintelligible screenplay is a shockingly off-form turn for Anderson, there are other reasons why you’d go to see a film of his.
For one, the director’s distinctive visual style has been a charming breath of fresh air in Hollywood for the best part of 20 years now. However, apart from the fact that this hyper-quaint approach is really starting to feel tired after so many years, The French Dispatch takes things to a frankly stupid level.
With the exception of a tiny handful of nicely-plotted shots, this movie is an unbearable case of style over substance. There’s so much of Anderson’s face-on shots and slow sideway pans that it becomes a point of annoyance more than charm, and is extremely distracting when you’re trying to make sense of the already impossible-to-understand screenplay.
Couple that with what for the most part are seemingly arbitrary decisions to shift between black-and-white and colour imagery throughout, and The French Dispatch is a film whose distinctive style is actually one of the most insufferable things about it.
And finally, The French Dispatch isn’t a particularly funny film. With the exception of a few quiet chuckles through the whole movie, my screening was largely silent throughout, with the majority of the jokes falling painfully flat, and only serving to further discredit an already disastrous screenplay.
That being said, everything about The French Dispatch seems like a big joke. As if Wes Anderson has made the film to mock himself to the extreme, and to mock the audience for even trying to find a way to enjoy what is in reality a nightmare of gibberish, tedious storytelling and infuriatingly over-stylised visuals.
There are so many great Wes Anderson films out there, from my favourite Moonrise Kingdom to the brilliant animations Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs, along with the ingenious The Royal Tenenbaums, the hilarious Rushmore and more. He’s a fantastic director who will rightly be remembered as one of Hollywood’s most distinctive voices for decades to come.
But The French Dispatch? This is an unbelievably poor turn of form from an always lively and colourful filmmaker. Tedious, unfunny, annoying and impossible to understand, it’s easily one of the worst films of the year, and sadly a waste of time when you could be watching one of Wes Anderson’s far better films from the past. So, that’s why I’m giving The French Dispatch a 3.6 overall.