The Carefully Controlled Carrot: Two Notes on The French Dispatch

1) I waited a long time to see The French Dispatch on a smaller screen in the local Regal cineplex. I pre-read and enjoyed the accompanying book of New Yorker essays entitled An Editor's Burial assembled by Wes Anderson. I thought the movie would never arrive at my small town in South Carolina, but it did . . . and I went away feeling a bit let down. Next to Greta Gerwig and Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson is one of my favorite of the younger directors out there, and I teach Rushmore (1998) regularly, but The French Dispatch is so constrained, the mise en scene so boxed in, every frame within a frame within a frame, the storylines are so short that they leave only the tiniest suggestion of any character arcs for any of the many excellent actors. I hear they all have great dinners after a day's shoot, but Bill Murray only has time to look slightly wistful as the main editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. Timothee Chalamet looks intense with playfully revolutionary hair. Tilda Swinton comically provides the viewer with a slide show, and Frances McDormand plays Lucinda Krementz who appears as a bemused reporter. The movie is mostly breathtaking for the way it squanders major stars with so little screen time: Saoirse Ronan (as Junkie Showgirl # 1) gets one brief close up of her blue eyes through a grate. Every shot is oh so crafted, appreciating the film requires a kind of archeological dig into the analysis of each frozen frame. I wish that Anderson would just loosen up a bit, and give his talented actors more time to breathe and exist on screen as he used to do. His OCD filmmaking resembles a salad so chopped up and Cuisinarted, one is left doing what one can to appreciate the occasional artfully sculpted fragment of a carrot.

2) All that said, I did like Benicio del Toro's droll interpretation of the tortured artist Moses Rosenthaler. Anderson appears to take pleasure in puncturing the pretensions of the art world, and del Toro's dry delivery accentuates that. The French Dispatch can be surprisingly funny.