Situated in the fictional French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, director Wes Anderson’s latest comic opera takes place inside the offices of the French Dispatch. An American newspaper set adrift on a wave of gallic nostalgia, its staff rush to assemble their latest issue. Yet, from the first archly-perched cigarette to the coiffured sentences that follow, you’ll either lurve or hate what’s about follow…
… the film’s humour never relaxes long enough to invite you in.
Once again, as with 2004’s The Life Aquatic, Bill Murray is central to the plot. As the French Dispatch‘s editor, his presence bookends the film’s inventive storyline of editorials and features. However, that said, if you were expecting a return to the triumphant folie of The Grand Budapest Hotel, or for Murray to step into the surprisingly deft shoes of Ralph Fiennes, then you’ll discover that both are overly self-occupied.
Whereas GBH cartwheeled joyously from one scene to another, The French Dispatch quickly mires itself in self-harm – and the reason for that is comic. By deliberately trying to stick to a meter that is so rhythmic to the scenery, the film’s humour never relaxes long enough to invite you in and the wound is a fatal one. Like a private joke strung out for 103 minutes, it’s far more likely that you’ll be squirming in your seat after the first minute than the fiftieth.
Linger any longer than that and then you will be relegated to an evening of spot-the-celeb-thespian. -And whilst there are plenty of worthy candidates, Tilda Swinton smites all before her. At the back end of The Concrete Masterpiece, which is by far the best segment of the movie, Tilda delivers a lecture that immediately marks her out. Through dint of accent, deportment and delivery, it’s another quintessential disappearing act that will leave you wondering just how she does it.
Yet, in the end, for all the beautifully made film that it is, The French Dispatch only wants to be loved on its own terms. Caught between the pages of its best intentions, Anderson’s stories become a suffocating slog whereas a real-life editor would have dropped several items to save the issue.