Much like double malt scotch or pickled pigs’ feet, the films of Wes Anderson are a bit of an acquired taste.
I jibed with his style right off the bat with his first two movies “Bottle Rocket” (which gave the world the Wilson Brothers) and “Rushmore” (which gave the world Jason Schwartzman). Back then Anderson was still considered conventional, yet quirky.
25 years later he’s basically become his own genre and I’ve happily followed him further and further into the mannered and oddball weeds.
It’s been seven years since Anderson’s last live-action feature “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which just might be his masterpiece (I’ll hear your argument for “The Royal Tenenbaums).
His latest, “The French Dispatch,” is an ambitious swing and while it doesn’t land among his very best, it’s still vintage Anderson down to the last drop.
“The French Dispatch” is an anthology film with the conceit being it is the final edition of The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, a lifestyle magazine where American expatriate journalists cover the arts and politics of the mid-20th century town of Ennui, France.
Anthology movies are always a bit dicey as inevitably certain segments are stronger than the others and the brevity of the good ones and the shortcomings of the bad ones always seem to be magnified.
The best of the bunch might be the shortest where Owen Wilson’s travelogue introduces us to the city of Ennui in grimy detail.
But while the main thread of the film is a bit uneven, the joy of “The French Dispatch” is watching Anderson doodle in the margins. He switches back and for the between black and white and color, positions the camera in all kinds of interesting places and sneaks one-liners and puns into the script.
Over the years Anderson has built up an impressive and loyal stable of actors (is it even a Wes Anderson movie if Bill Murray doesn’t at least walk in front of the camera?) to the point that brilliant performers like Edward Norton and Willem Dafoe will show up as glorified extras just to deliver a line or two of dialogue.
The standouts here are Benicio Del Toro as the gifted artist-in-residence of a maximum security prison, Tilda Swinton as a Midwestern arts patron, Timothee Chalamet as the leader of a student protest movement and Jeffrey Wright as a food critic with a typographic memory whose feature of a police chef (not a typo) places him in the middle of a daring kidnapping.
I willingly admit that “The French Dispatch” isn’t for everyone, but if Anderson is a taste you’ve acquired, it would be silly of you to miss it.
“The French Dispatch” is rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language.