Review: The French Dispatch
Written from the eyes (and heart) of a young journalist
The slow burn death of print journalism. The beauty of writing. Loneliness. Love. Poetry. Revolution.
The “French Dispatch” is a 2 hour long love letter to journalism. As a writer, the movie inspired me to write about everything I see, feel, think, experience. More than ever now I want to interview strangers, eat every food imaginable, attend and explore countless museums, and write about it all.
Wes Anderson celebrates journalism in its most pure form: writers writing about what fascinates and captivates them until they simply can’t write anymore. The French Dispatch (a fictional magazine) is a branch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun (another fictional publication). It’s offices are in Ennui, Paris. One of the initial scenes of the movie shows editor in chief Arthur Howitzer, played by Bill Murray, struggling to fit all of the stories into an issue of the magazine; ultimately deciding to get more paper and print every article at the length the journalist intended it to be in order to cultivate the true essence of each writer and their stories. Passion is what drives a writer to write, and Anderson captures just that in this film.
Each story in the anthology carries the voice, literally, of the journalist and showcases their interests and specific talents. And, while each story is significantly different from the next, they share a common ground, loneliness. As a journalist, I can relate to this feeling of loneliness. Sometimes it’s comforting to be alone with your thoughts and words, but other times it's infuriating to be alone with your thoughts and words. Many times, journalists prioritize writing and language above all else, even meaningful human connections. Anderson captures this devotion in the story titled “Revisions to a Manifesto” which follows Lucinda Krementz, played by Frances McDormand, as she immerses herself in a youth protest. Krementz, is an older, single, female journalist but it’s clear that the people around her feel as if she needs a companion. Or at least a more tangible companion than words on a page. Anderson makes this clear by adding a scene where Zefirelli’s parents attempt to set her up with an acquaintance of theirs. But, Lucinda Krementz is content, she enjoys following around the revolutionary French youth, revising their manifesto, and reporting on her experiences. The letters on the page are enough for her, they keep her company, they are her greatest possession and one true love.
Ultimately, the heart of the film is the death of journalism. It’s a fact, the written word is dying. It’s days on shelves and newsstands are expiring, like milk out of the fridge. The movie itself is almost like an elegy, a beautiful poem praising the art of journalistic writing and while it’s not dead yet, it’s no secret that it might die soon. In the final moments of the film, the editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. dies, and with him the French Dispatch. After running for 50 years, the publication almost immediately evaporates with the death of its editor. Proving to viewers just how fragile print journalism really is.
For the non writer, the movie might feel like a mixed media rambling about the complicated lives of many individuals. They might argue that the movie had no plot, and followed too many people’s lives with no greater meaning or resolution. But, to a writer, the movie depicts the curiosity and determination we feel to learn and share about the lives of others. That ecstatic, giddy feeling that happens when you find a story worth writing about and the sense of fulfillment but also loss when the story feels complete.