Wes Anderson’s 10th film is about as Wes Andersony as it gets. To this point in his career, I’d argue that it’s also the *most* Wes Andersony, for good or for bad. This has delighted his fans (many of whom swooned online at the first trailer in February 2020) and likely was unsurprising to those who find his work narratively engaging and technically impressive, but mostly the same from film to film. To be fair, this writer is a big fan of writer/director Kevin Smith’s work and the same terms could be used to describe his recent works, as well. The point being, if you’ll allow, is that when one buys a ticket to a Wes Anderson film, there’s now a certain expectation of what’s to come: beautiful sets, quirky characters brought to life by a cavalcade of A-List actors, and a series of odd yet perfectly acceptable circumstances. If this sounds like a good time for you, then Anderson’s The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun (full title) is available on digital as of December 14th, 2021, with a physical release coming December 28th, though it shall arrive with nary a special feature in sight.
Upon his sudden death, editor Arthur Howitzer Jr.’s (Bill Murray) will instructs that all printing of The French Dispatch will cease, marking the edition currently in the works the last. What follows is an invitation to enjoy the final edition by diving into four individual feature stories from four premiere writers of the esteemed international publication.
If you’re interested in learning about The French Dispatch without the possibility of spoilers, I recommend checking out EoM contributor Hunter Heilman’s theatrical review from Film Fest 919 2021. Moving forward, there will be specific discussion of the film.
Put simply, The French Dispatch is a fine film. There’s little in it that surprises or evokes awe, appearing in any way like a stretch for the writer/director and his tried-and-true cast. It’s not basic by any measure, no. It’s as beautiful in composition as ever, restrained in design yet opulent where appropriate. The colors in set and cinematography are vibrant and alive, but not overpowering, maintaining a sense of realism at all times to go along with the boots-on-the-ground quality required of a tale told from a reporter’s view. It’s only during the final, and strongest, vignette where Anderson breaks away from tradition to utilize animation where live-action just wouldn’t convey the drama and tension the tale requires via the typical separated stiffness of his characters. Each piece contains its own bit of charm and does benefit from a second viewing in order for the little nuances within Dispatch to be discovered. For instance, the first vignette after the prologue, “The Cycling Reporter,” is a whimsical portion in which Owen Wilson’s Herbsaint Sazerac quite literally bikes through the town of Ennui-sur-Blasé (the fictional town the Dispatch is based in) offering thoughts on various locations and how they shifted or changed throughout the years. While cute on its own, it also provides a quick geography lesson on all the locations the audience is going to explore in the following three vignettes, setting up some of the strife within each one. It is, however, the third vignette, “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” starring Jeffrey Wright as Roebuck Wright, which is most likely to penetrate audiences and draw audiences back for all the ways in which it is different from the previous three portions and the almost exhilarating storytelling, performance from Wright, and direction. Up to this point, however, there’s little that truly pulls at the audience to return.
As someone who appreciates a good home release for both the opportunity to possess a film to watch whenever I like and to dig into the specifics of the film (enjoyed or not), I must admit some dismay that The French Dispatch does not include a single special feature with the home release. Considering that eight of his prior releases are available via The Criterion Collection, each one bursting with bonus materials, one could guess that either (a) the pandemic release nerfed any plans for features or (b) they are being held back for a future edition. There’s also the possibility that since the film didn’t garner enough awards-related steam, Searchlight decided not to invest. Though, if one decides to take a cynical route, it could also be because new Searchlight Pictures owner Walt Disney Company doesn’t seem to be putting much support behind any films under the 20th Century Studios banner. Whichever avenue you choose to walk, it doesn’t change how disappointing it is not to have anything to expand the cinematic experience upon purchase.
Additionally, because the review copy provided is digital, it’s difficult to speak on the quality of the film as that depends entirely on what service is used to access the film and how your Internet is feeling the day you stream it. That said, the look of the film when streamed via a 4K Apple TV on a 4K UHD television does offer a tad more pop to the 1080p digital file than the DVD I initially used to screen the film for awards purposes via my Xbox X (also 4K compatible). My presumption is that while the Xbox X can upscale, the Apple TV had less far to go in the upscale process, which is why the stream looked more presentable and attractive than the DVD. I mention this mainly because, as a major supporter of physical media, with Dispatch only available in Blu-ray, DVD, and digital, it’s good to know what your options are and how they’ll translate on current tech.
As the film currently sits (as of this writing) at a 74% critical score and 76% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, one could surmise that there’s an agreement that The French Dispatch is a fine film, one which will enable Wes Anderson fans to get their fix of his particular unique voice. It clamors for neither prestige nor extended drama. It exists merely to be seen and discussed as one might a periodical that the film mimics in style and structure. I might even propose that the discussion of said work is far more valuable than the piece itself as the smaller pieces within The French Dispatch are certainly far more interesting than the whole.
No special features included with the home release.
Available on digital December 14th, 2021.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD December 28th, 2021.
For more information, head to Searchlight Pictures’s official The French Dispatch website.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.