Movie review: 'The French Dispatch'

Oct 22, 2021
Originally published on October 22, 2021 8:30 am
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SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The new film "The French Dispatch" is kind of like seeing a classic issue of The New Yorker come to life. It's based on the colorful articles of a fictional magazine run by a grumpy but respectable editor, played by Bill Murray.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FRENCH DISPATCH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Arthur Howitzer Jr. transformed the series of travelogue columns into The French Dispatch, a factual weekly report on the subjects of world politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE BLOWING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The arts, high and low, and diverse stories of human interest.

DETROW: Yeah, hearing that clip, you know exactly who directed this movie - Wes Anderson. We have two moviegoers with us now who are eager to talk about it. Glen Weldon is the host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, and Bedatri D. Choudhury is a film critic and cultural journalist. Good morning.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Good morning.

BEDATRI D CHOUDHURY: Good morning.

DETROW: I would be curious to hear how both of you would describe what exactly a Wes Anderson movie is. Glen, why don't you go first with that assignment?

WELDON: I mean, going into any Wes Anderson film, you know two things. One, it's going to be meticulously constructed. That's baked into his set design, the cinematography, the dialogue and the performances. Part 2, he is never going to let you forget that. His stuff is all about the artifice, the theater of it all. You know, in this film, he throws in animation. One sequence becomes a literal theatrical production, which is why his stuff is so divisive, right? If you like it, you call it stylized and idiosyncratic and imaginative, but if you don't like it, you call it mannered and arch and the T-word, twee. I'm in the first camp.

DETROW: What about you, Bedatri? What is, like, the definitive Wes Anderson thing for you?

CHOUDHURY: I mean, to add to everything Glen said, I think it's also the way Wes Anderson designs a plot. He's not trying to conceal things from you. Everything's out there for you to see. And it's out there in a very expansive way, so you may miss it, but he's not hiding anything from you.

DETROW: So Glen, set the scene for us. Is this movie in a fancy hotel or a ship or some sort of fantastical stop-motion animation setting? Where are we going here?

WELDON: We are in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blase. And as you said, this is a love letter to The New Yorker, specifically to writers like Mavis Gallant and A.J. Liebling and James Baldwin. It is also a love letter to classic French cinema. And I'm going to go way out on a limb here, Scott, and suggest that that particular Venn Diagram might intersect with an NPR listener or two.

DETROW: (Laughter) Probably. Bedatri, I have heard that this movie is broken up in an interesting way.

CHOUDHURY: Yes.

DETROW: What's the structure, and why does that matter, going in?

CHOUDHURY: The film has kind of three acts, and it's divided into the backstories and - or you could say the evolution stories of three articles that come out in this issue of this magazine, which is called The French Dispatch. And interestingly enough, this magazine brings the world of France and the happenings in this little French town to people in Kansas. The readers are in Kansas, and I think it - I mean, I would say it works beautifully.

DETROW: Does this movie work for somebody who doesn't necessarily name-check classic New Yorker writers like we all just did in this conversation?

CHOUDHURY: No, I would say it does beautifully because, you know, I did not grow up in this country, and I did not grow up reading The New Yorker. I think just by, you know, the strength of the story, I think the film holds pretty well.

WELDON: Yeah, and I would say Wes Anderson's films are just pleasures to watch. The act of watching them - you're going to be sitting in that theater grinning from ear to ear, just visually stimulated. I do think there is an emotional heartbeat to this film that I think is going to carry you through.

DETROW: All right. All three of us clearly in the pro-Wes Anderson camp.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah.

WELDON: (Laughter) Yep.

DETROW: That's NPR's Glen Weldon, as well as Bedatri D. Choudhury. Thank you so much to both of you.

CHOUDHURY: Thank you so much.

WELDON: Thank you.

DETROW: The film is called "The French Dispatch." It's out today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.