ST. LOUIS — Wes Anderson's "The French Dispatch" beams with ideas, so many of them. A collection of quirky anecdotes about both the world of news and the world as we know it, his latest film is a test of eccentric endurance. How much can the non-Wes fanatic take?
The idea of the movie sounded like a home run to me. A group of old school journalists pumping out a small American newspaper from a French outpost, telling long-form stories about the bewildering nature of real life colliding with the written word. Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro, Frances McDormand, Lea Seydoux, Adrien Brody, and some guy named Timothee Chalamet. That's not even half the cast, which is a gathered ensemble of Anderson's favorite movie-making teammates.
But what I received with his latest film was charming if overwhelming, invigorating for small periods of time before alienating 90% of his audience. To properly and thoroughly explain what is happening in the four-part film would require a few editors and lots of ink. Suffice to say, Murray is the editor of a longstanding yet soon ending newspaper compiled in a European city yet covering American events and ideas.
"The French Dispatch" is a collection of vignettes that don't make much of a dent due to the short amount of time spent with their tales. Del Toro's imprisoned artist, whose relationship with a guard (Seydoux, who burns the screen upon entry) takes a few appealingly quirky turns. Give me more of that black and white filmed beauty.
But alas, Anderson's film takes us on other journeys, which are amusing if preachy if not ultimately satisfying each time. Jeffrey Wright is a crusading journalist explaining his exploits to a talk show host (Liev Schreiber, one of my faves given a small amount to do here) grows layers as the story grows but the impact isn't as strong as the filmmaker had intended.
Anderson's film, which is bookended by a funeral/memorial, never quite takes flight due to its overstuffed construction. The eccentricity is cranked up to an eleven here; if that's your game, then you're golden. But if you're not, a lot of what transpires here will zoom past your brain.
Believe me, Brody's role as an art collector is hilarious and delightfully odd, something Anderson cranks up when you set his volume to the Coen Brothers. But it's a fleeting part and story segment, which hinders the memorable aspect of it all. I love a good crack at journalism woes and triumphs, but too many parts of Anderson's script were dull.
Here's the thing. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Isle of Dogs" were breakthroughs in direction and audience reach for the longtime writer/director well-known for bringing "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" to theaters. Like M. Night Shyamalan, you know what the meal has in store when you walk into one of his creations. Unfortunately, the promise of "The French Dispatch" exceeded its overall execution.
Translation: This one is for Wes Anderson fanatics only.