Review: ‘The French Dispatch’ captures Wes Anderson’s view of the world

Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri in "The French Dispatch." 

Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri in "The French Dispatch." 

Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Wes Anderson loves life in its extremes.

As a filmmaker, he joyfully captures exaggerated characters in outrageous situations without letting himself, his cast or audience, take anything too seriously while making us think. From revealing family dysfunction in “The Royal Tenenbaums” to hopeful young love in “Moonrise Kingdom” to captivating lunacy in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Anderson conveys a specific view of the worlds he sees, savors and can’t wait to share.

Anderson’s latest exploration, “The French Dispatch,” takes us to a charming village in France where a magazine remains committed to communicating essential stories. In a series of vignettes, tied together as “articles” in the publication, Anderson explores the idiosyncrasies of a community where people express comfort in simply being themselves. From the delightful opening where Owen Wilson bicycles through town, Anderson sets the tone for his affectionate view of a world where people creatively express how their ideas clearly matter.

In one episode, an artist jailed for murder falls in love with his prison guard. In another, a protestor forgets his cause when the opportunity for an illicit affair presents itself and, in another, a talented chef tries to please the police with his culinary delights. Each vignette tells a complete tale – much like a short story on film – all displayed in the stylized beauty that defines Anderson on film.

Of course, what makes any movie from this director so much fun is the cast he manages to engage. In the tale of the protestor, three-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand – who might be in the running again this year for her turn as Lady MacBeth in that new film – uses her precise comic timing to full advantage as a woman a little too interested in a protestor’s personal moves. She is funny, touching and joyful. Perfect. Timothee Chalamet, now starring on screen in “Dune,” captures the confusion such a committed demonstrator might face when confronting the possibilities of romance. In the story about the jailed artist, Oscar winners Benicio Del Toro and Adrien Brody play with their on-screen images as they create three-dimensional views of a prisoner and art dealer trying to deal with complex worlds. And, in the look at a chef cooking for the police, Jeffrey Wright shines in a fabulous parody of the curious storyteller who explores the culinary delights created in the department kitchen. Adding to Anderson’s fun are Tilda Swinton as a stage presence to outdo them all and Bill Murray who brings his trademark stoicism to his portrayal of the magazine’s publisher.

All this works because Anderson welcomes us into his celebration. Aside from being technically expert – with production and costume design, as well as music, that should be remembered by the Oscars – the film inspires our imaginations because the director makes exaggeration so accessible. Because he believes in these people, and their antics, we willingly trust wherever he wants us to take us. Even the most exaggerated moments. What fun, again, to experience Wes Anderson!
“The French Dispatch” runs 1 hour and 43 minutes. The film is rated R for “graphic nudity, sexual references and language.” It is playing in theaters.

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Film Summary: The French Dispatch

Content: High. This loving look at daily life in a charming French village presents the best of movie maker Wes Anderson on film.
Entertainment: High. Because Anderson approaches the story with such care and respect, we love every moment we get to spend with these exaggerated characters.
Message: High. At a moment when our lives off screen can still feel strained by isolation, the togetherness this film celebrates is joyful.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to savor a movie maker who knows how to put a story on screen is time well spent.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The movie can give you a chance to relax, chuckle and simply enjoy, although it is not for the whole family.