‘All great beauties withhold their deepest secrets...’
In my experience, Wes Anderson is either brilliant or unbearable. He often straddles these two states simultaneously before eventually righting his ship in the end. At the top end of his oeuvre you have Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom and the best of the lot, The Grand Budapest Hotel. At the bottom end you have The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. And at the very very bottom end you will find The French Dispatch…
The plot? I’ve absolutely no idea. At no point did I have the faintest idea what was going on. The plot seems to hang limp like a sheet over a ghost, in this case as an excuse to make every single frame look like a painting. And while there is no doubting this manipulation of mise-en-scene is an artform of itself of which Anderson is the master, you can’t base an entire feature film around visuals alone. No. There is no plot. Merely a string of voiceovers and title cards interspersed with smug characters espousing smug dialogue.
We are treated to most of Anderson’s usual accomplices. Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray are all present and correct, as well as a dizzying list of collaborators including, but not limited to, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet, Tilda Swinton and Benicio Del Toro, the latter of whom is the only one who bothers to turn in a good performance, in this case as murderous artist Moses Rosenthaler in the film’s only interesting moments.
The French Dispatch is a director drunk on himself and high on sniffing his own farts. Anderson fanatics will probably eat it up, but don’t be fooled, this is nonsense of the highest order. Pretty nonsense perhaps, but nonsense nonetheless.