The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Wes Anderson is an American director from Austin, Texas who started making short films in college with his friend Owen Wilson who he happened to meet accidentally. Commonly described as a New Sincerity director, a term used to encapsulate a creative expression or work that has moved away from concepts of postmodernist irony and cynicism. Though, even for those unfamiliar with his works, his style can be easily spotted. Flaunting a deep love for typography and color pallets, an Anderson film is distinguishable and known for its playful camera angles and set dressing.
My love for Anderson films started when I stumbled across The Royal Tenenbaums in the late 2010s and, for the first time in my life, a film made me cry. Granted, a lot of films have made me cry—I cry all the time — but I wasn’t only crying because of what the characters on screen were experiencing. I was crying because they were experiencing something in a way that was so unlike real life yet completely relatable. The scene is this: Margot Tenenbaum, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, steps off the bus to pick up her brother Richie, played by Luke Wilson, at the bus station after his years-long existential crisis at sea and time slows down.
“These Days” by Nico plays and the two lay eyes on each other for the first time in a long while.
Richie gets up from his chair to greet her in an embrace. I’m a puddle of tears on my couch every time because we often have our own moments of time slowing down, of hugs where there are things left unsaid, of long-awaited reunions—but Anderson portrays it the way we wish it could be.
Anderson’s newest film, The French Dispatch, is no different. “A love letter to journalism” was the only review I had read before going to see it in theaters. I saw it on a surprise date proposed by my dutiful husband, who decided to continue our longstanding tradition of seeing every Anderson film at our local independent spot. And the critics were right. Though, to be more specific, The French Dispatch is a love letter to magazines – to the multiplicity of storylines that are found between carefully curated pages and all the negative spaces in between.
Anderson begins the plot with his usual tricks, making the setting and the characters just obscure enough to be believed as real in some small, obsolete corner of the world, just on the periphery of our vision. Stuck somewhere outside of time, outside of the imagination as warm and embracing as a smile received from a moderately attractive stranger in passing. Left to only exist as a hazy memory sometimes appearing in your daydreams without proper recollection of where or when.
You are instantly introduced to the headquarters of The French Dispatch Magazine, an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth-century French city, and its editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer Jr., played by none other than Bill Murray. The audience quickly learns that Howitzer has one rule in his newsroom:
No CryingArthur Howitzer Jr., The French Dispatch
Despite this, he loves his reporters dearly and makes allowances for them to cover the world around them, not as he sees fit, but as they need to be. As soon as Anderson establishes that the French Dispatch Magazine exists, he forces you to begin turning the pages. The movie is comprised of a multitude of completely unrelated plotlines that are only connected because they were featured in one singular edition of the Dispatch.
The first entry of the magazine is a tour of the city by photojournalist Herbsaint Sazerac, played by Owen Wilson. On a bike, you learn of the rats in the gutters, the bodies in the river and the packs of wild church boys who attack little old ladies for grins. Keeping in line with New Sincerity cynicism, you are led to believe that despite all this, the town is still beautiful, charming and, most importantly, alive.
Next, we meet J.K.L Berenson, played by Tilda Swinton, who is an arts and entertainment writer. She leads us through her extensive coverage of the artist, inmate and one-time lover, Moses Rosenthaler, played by Benicio Del Toro. In this chapter, the audience is guided through the dynamic tension of an artist and their muse. Paralleling real life, the audience learns that the inspiration behind putting a brush to canvas is electrifying, complicated and often convoluted. That all things beautiful and worth harboring are most frequently found in times of pain and suffering. While most art can have origins made up of deep love and understanding, they can quickly be exploited for profit or admiration.
Before the audience has a chance to process the cinematic thrill of Moses’ art career, they are quickly whisked into the politics sections of this month’s Dispatch. Lucinda Kerementz, played by Frances McDormand, is covering a teenage rebellion that began as a call for equal entry into the girl’s dormitory at the local boarding school. Following the fearless leader of this campaign, Zeffirelli, played by Timothee Chalamet (who seems to be in every movie these days), Kerementz explores what it means to harbor a belief. A belief in right and wrong, in love, in something worth dying for. In this writing, Kerementz also explores her own beliefs—that she is comfortable being alone, that she believes in journalistic neutrality. Kerementz shows the audience what it takes to nurture that belief into action and ultimately proves how all heroes become icons for those with very little beliefs themselves. Placed in the middle of the film, the audience may think of this as the crescendo but instead, we are graced by the smooth transition into the food columnist section.
Roebuck Wright, played by Jeffery Wright, writes on food wherever he finds himself. This is because he is often alone, with food as his unwavering constant. When going to cover the exponential talent of the local police department’s head chef, Wright finds himself in the middle of a hostage situation when the police chief’s son is kidnapped. The audience is invited to follow closely as the case unfolds. An edge-of-your-seat cops and robbers chase in which Wright finds the time to describe the three-course dinner served in exponential detail.
By the end of this mini-series, you intimately know the staff of the French Dispatch. As someone who works in a newsroom myself, I had associated my peers with the characters and laughed at their similar quips. The ending is good, but I would rather not spoil it. It almost makes you break the only rule in the newsroom. The movie made me incredibly happy, yet also made me feel a deep sense of longing.
See, Anderson has a habit of romanticizing things that can’t exist or don’t exist anymore. The bond with your childhood dog, a summer of love in your youth, the thrill of being a deep-sea explorer. How strange it was to see my profession displayed as a fantasy on screen. It’s no big secret that legacy media is dying. And yes, for now, digital publications like this one are doing okay. But wasn’t it more romantic when writing was something that had to be curated, bound and bought in a market stall on the street? Like flowers or balloons? You used to buy a magazine out of fancy, the way we stop for coffee or lunch. What does it mean to write now? Who’s reading this? Who cares?
More so, while I saw a bit of myself in every journalist, my heart ached for an editor-in-chief who encouraged me to push myself and produce the best work possible. Someone who was both a peer and a mentor, who put as much care and consideration in seeing me succeed as I do with every word I write.
I want that. I want an Arthur Howitzer Jr. in my life as much as I wanted to be Margot walking in slow motion off the bus. So, The French Dispatch was great. It’s the magazine I wish I was a part of during my college experience. It’s the support I never had. It’s the beauty and integrity and humor that I had tried to carry with me throughout all my work. And that’s fine and fleeting and heightened, but more interestingly, it’s still not my favorite Wes Anderson film. But, it is still worth a watch.