The French Dispatch

At the time of this writing, I’ve given this film 4 out of 5 stars, and I think that’s more aspirational than anything: at the risk of being dishonest by not siding with my immediate feelings, I’m putting my faith in something deep down inside me that says, “there is so much to this movie that even if you didn’t feel it all tonight, you will upon repeated viewings, and this is the rating you will eventually give it.”

Tonight, it feels like more of a 3 or a 3.5 out of 5.

This film throws so much at the viewer, at such a breakneck pace, that one is constantly struggling to keep up with it. This is precisely why it will be so savory after one has seen it two, three, or more times. On first viewing, though, you are almost at odds with the film, trying to keep up with the dialog, the character motivations, the occasional subtitles, and the myriad intricacies present in the direction, cinematography and production.

This is, for better and worse, peak Wes Anderson, and it is difficult to imagine how much higher he can target his creative ambition. What he aims for here, he hits flawlessly, and yet, it is a project so specific and narrow in its focus that it does not offer the easy entry of relatability found in nearly all his other movies (focused as they are on families, siblings, colleagues, rivals, etc.).

In fact, what is solidly working most against this film is its structure, even if it is thematically mandatory: presented as if we are watching the contents of the final issue of The French Dispatch newspaper, the movie is necessarily an anthology, and for that reason it is difficult to attach very strongly to any of its characters. We don’t spend enough time with them to get to know them as intimately as we get to know the Tenenbaum family, the research crew of the Belafonte, or the inhabitants and onlookers of Rushmore Academy.

And yet like many other elements of the movie, I believe this feeling of distance and lack of familiarity will be remedied with repeat viewings. The more exposure we get to these characters by way of brief vignettes into their lives and memories, the more time the film will have had to sew the seeds of them in our imagination, that our affection for them may grow to the heights of Wes Anderson’s other beloved creations.

This movie will be a more significant challenge for anyone that considers Wes Anderson’s movies to be anything less than must-see viewing, but I believe it will also challenge even the most enthusiastic fan of his work. I also don’t think that is a bad thing.

Anderson’s catalogue of creative work is an example to the rest of us not to rest on our laurels; that stagnation may be easy, comfortable, and often even enjoyable…but that it is not the sort of soul-nurturing stuff we need to grow. We need to push our limits and have our limits pushed, even if our growth leaves some folks scratching their heads.

This is a copy of the review on my Letterboxd profile. There, I rated it 8/10.

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