For someone who still has an artistic teenager deep inside her, I adored “The French Dispatch.”
In high school, I was obsessed with the French word “ennui” – a pretentious way of saying “overwhelming boredom.” Seeing that word in Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” made my inner, overthinking, teenage artist ecstatic.
Ennui appeared on a vocabulary list for a book in my Honors American Literature class that I never read, but it resonated with me. It perfectly defined the boredom and mundanity I felt, despite being promised that young adulthood is the best time of your life. That feeling never really left; I’m still in my “good ol’ years” and spending most of my time at home staring at a screen.
In the film, Ennui is the small, French town in which an American publication, the French Dispatch, follows multiple, comically absurd stories of its citizens. Basic situations like riding a bike through a city, playing chess or dining with friends are mixed with absurd scenarios, including a city-wide war over co-ed dorms, a prison wall being displayed in a museum or a chef saving a child from kidnappers via radishes.
The absurd and mundane are juxtaposed as well, with specific scenes and moments being placed in color while the majority of scenes are monochromatic flashbacks. The inclusion of color displays the life and emotion we find in the most mundane moments, even within absurd situations. And isn’t that life – finding the color in our boredom, even despite living seemingly overwhelming lives?
The film is classic Anderson, right down to an all-star cast of recurring actors from his filmography. At this point, it seems like Anderson has Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton and others on speed dial.
The set design and lack of CGI evokes the feeling of live theater, which is much appreciated in an era of filmmaking dominated by greenscreen and CGI effects. The inclusion of actor/director-created “freeze frames” – tableaus where you can see actors moving slightly and breathing – feel fun and lively in a film that’s specifically focusing on the fun and lively within tame moments.
With its theme of beauty and boredom, “The French Dispatch” beautifully comments on art. The film explores how art shows the most interesting parts of our lives through articles in the Dispatch. The articles focus on various forms of art, including painting, writing and cooking. They describe how art affects us, making artists and the consumers feel something, though not always the same “something.”
While being visually stunning and thematically powerful, the writing and acting occasionally falters. The reliance on banter gets old – and ironically, boring – with only the occasional powerful dialogue in a film obviously meant to be poignant. As is a common complaint with Anderson films, it feels almost like a passion project for the friends working on the film, versus an actual movie meant to be enjoyed by the masses.
Was this Anderson’s best film? Absolutely not. However, for someone who still has an artistic teenager deep inside her, I adored it. After years of reboots, formulaic blockbusters and a mountain of underwhelming Netflix originals, this pretentious film that I could actually see in a theater was imperfect, but wonderful. In a time where few things excite me, “The French Dispatch” made me excited about the word “ennui” again.
“The French Dispatch” is rated R and runs for one hour and 43 minutes.