The French Dispatch – 3 stars
Wes Anderson has always injected enough feeling and pathos into his films to temper their quirky veneer. In Bottle Rocket, we cheered for the ambitious loser, Dignan. In Rushmore, there were true relationships formed between Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Olivia Williams, and to see them hurt, well . . . it hurt. In The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson allowed for familial connections, and the payoff was a semi-reconciliation with a bear of father, Gene Hackman. Hell, even in the zany The Life Aquatic, there was something built between Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray.
There is no such emotional draw here. Rather, the film is a series of charming, amusing vignettes, four articles from the last issue of a fictional art and culture magazine.
As stories go, in Anderson’s hands, they are funny and often ingenious.
But untethered to anything other than his novel direction, they are also unengaging. The picture is brilliant to look at but lacks any depth or resonance.
Another fear. Anderson’s style, shorn of any real requirement of character, lends itself to the “Mamet-ization” of his films, where the cadence and form are so unique, the actors become victim to caricature. There is some of that here and it is a harbinger that should be heeded.