Cannes Film Festival attendees called Wes Anderson’s wryly charming new film a love letter to vintage magazine journalism, specifically The New Yorker – which indeed it is.
Set in the fictional French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, The French Dispatch traces its history as a former Sunday supplement to Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, publishing for 50 years – until 1975 – according to narrator Anjelica Huston.
Beyond that, the story revolves around the staff of this mid-20th century literary magazine, headed by its impish editor-in-chief, Arthur Howitzer Jr., (Bill Murray). Those familiar with The New Yorker history know he’s a composite of its first two editors: Harold Ross & William Shawn. “No Crying” reads a sign on his office wall, and “Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose” is his dictum.
Drolly sophisticated Howitzer savors the eccentricity of his quirky writers: Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), taking viewers on a bicycle tour, creating a nostalgic cityscape…and Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), conjuring memories of Lillian Ross & Mavis Gallant, joining radical student activists, like chess genius Zeffirelli (Timothee Chalamet), protesting male students’ exclusion from female students’ dormitories
Reminiscent of James Baldwin & A.J. Liebling, Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) profiles a police chief’s personal chef, evoking memorable meals in a culinary crime drama. Art lecturer (Tilda Swinton) presents imprisoned artist/convicted murderer (Benicio del Toro), his guard/model (Lea Seydoux), and a maniacal dealer/investor (Adrien Brody).
Contributing colorful cameos are Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Fisher Stevens, Mathieu Amalric, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Liev Schreiber, Stephen Park, Henry Winkler, Christopher Waltz, Lois Smith, Rupert Friend and Elisabeth Moss.
Deftly scripted as an absurdly fanciful anthology, filled with piquant caricatures, it’s meticulously crafted by Wes Anderson as an inventive, whimsical tribute to several generations of mannered storytellers who enriched the American literary landscape….a worthy successor to his The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The French Dispatch is an astonishing, elegiac 8, playing in theaters.