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The French Dispatch First Reviews: The Most Wes Anderson Movie Ever, and It's Fantastic

Critics say the eclectic director's singular style shines through in a sumptuous, visually splendid anthology film that warrants repeat viewings to appreciate all the details.

by | July 13, 2021 | Comments

The latest from Wes Anderson is unmistakably his, but it’s also something more. The writer/director’s tenth feature, The French Dispatch, premiered this week at the Cannes Film Festival, and the first reviews dispatched from the French Riviera are celebrating its mix of the familiar and the fresh. If you’re a fan of Anderson’s work, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re not partial to his quirks and constructs, you may still find something to appreciate in this anthology of stories that plays like a cinematic representation of an old issue of a literary magazine.

Here’s what critics are saying about The French Dispatch:


Will Wes Anderson fans be pleased?

This is the Wes we know and love, with his artful considerations of love, liberty and what lives on after we die.
– Hannah Strong, Little White Lies

It’s a film that weaponizes whimsy in ways that will dazzle die-hard fans of the director.
– Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

Was it worth the wait? Well, for fans of the American director’s idiosyncratic stylings, the answer is surely yes.
– James Mottram, South China Morning Post

[It’s] a beguiling curio, and one that no other filmmaker could have created.
– David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter


How does it rank in his filmography?

It’s one of Anderson’s very best.
Ed Potton, Times

This is Anderson in full flower, one that only grows in a rarified altitude.
Todd McCarthy, Deadline

A work of such unparalleled Andersonian wit that at times the sheer level of detail that bedecked the screen was enough to make [my] jaw slacken.
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

Even by Anderson’s standards, this has to be the most ambitious film he’s ever produced.
James Mottram, South China Morning Post

Anderson’s most impressionistic and unusual film in quite some time… his most ambitious since his stop-motion adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Hannah Strong, Little White Lies

The Del Toro/Seydoux pairing stands out as Anderson’s most affecting love story since his 2007 short Hotel Chevalier.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire


The French Dispatch

(Photo by ©Searchlight Pictures)

Which of his films is it most reminiscent of?

The French Dispatch bears some of the DNA last glimpsed in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, another portrait of a storyteller partly drawn from real life.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

The Grand Budapest Hotel [is] arguably The French Dispatch’s closest kin among Anderson’s previous films.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

The French Dispatch initially feels like a companion piece to The Grand Budapest Hotel… but it quickly reveals itself to be something else entirely.
Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

One of the most labor-intensive films in existence. It makes The Grand Budapest Hotel look as if it was improvised over a weekend and shot with a smartphone.
Nicholas Barber, BBC


Does it feel like his most signature work?

The most Anderson of all Anderson films. It’s Anderson distilled, Anderson squared, Anderson to the nth degree.
Nicholas Barber, BBC

The ultimate Anderson movie because it’s everything he does whipped up into five jewel-box episodes… an Anderson sampler pack.
Steve Pond, The Wrap

The French Dispatch takes Anderson’s signature play with nested narrations and his love of midcentury culture to new heights.
Pat Brown, Slant Magazine

Anderson has found a close-to-ideal structure that flatters his mercurial, omnivorous tastes but also gets him out of any one storyline before its convolutions can convolute too much.
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

The French Dispatch is a near-perfect encapsulation of Anderson’s filmography and perhaps the best film to show to newcomers.
Rafael Motamayor, Collider

It might not be at the very zenith of what he can achieve but for sheer moment-by-moment pleasure, and for laughs, this is a treat.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian


The French Dispatch

(Photo by ©Searchlight Pictures)

Does it take Anderson in any new directions?

Anderson employs too many new tricks in his tenth feature to keep track of them all…[it’s] original in a way that you can only marvel at so deep into a veteran’s filmography.
Luke Hicks, Film School Rejects

It’s a significant breakthrough to see the director engaging with sexuality and violence as aspects of real life…[it] feels less safe than Anderson’s earlier work, and that’s a good thing.
Peter Debruge, Variety

The French Dispatch doesn’t have much of the sneaky sentimental undercurrent that makes Anderson’s films more than just intellectual exercises.
Tim Grierson, Screen International

[It’s] closer to a French New Wave experiment than the more controlled ensemble stories in his repertoire.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

I was expecting something more from this gifted director: more maturity, more depth, more interesting storytelling.
Jo-Anne Titmarsh, HeyUGuys


What if you aren’t a fan of Wes Anderson?

Anyone previously unimpressed by Mr. Anderson’s peculiar sensibility should run a mile in the opposite direction, and then a mile further.
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

You probably know whether you love his work or hate it. Well, The French Dispatch isn’t going to change your mind.
Nicholas Barber, BBC

Audiences who in the past have found Anderson’s work precious and overly mannered… [may] accuse the new film of veering almost into self-parody.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter


The French Dispatch

(Photo by ©Searchlight Pictures)

How does the film look?

Boy, it sure looks pretty.
Steve Pond, The Wrap

There is certainly much enjoyment to be found in Anderson’s amazing visuals.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

Among his most visually remarkable, each frame filled with meticulously crafted small details that add up to a dense, inviting cinematic jewel box.
Tim Grierson, Screen International

Flicking between black-and-white and color, the level of detail in recreating 1960s-ish France is breathtaking, with production designer Adam Stockhausen excelling.
James Mottram, South China Morning Post

Adam Stockhausen’s doll’s-house production design is eye-wateringly precise, the black-and-white images of the city’s ancient buildings deserve their own coffee table book.
Nicholas Barber, BBC

The [black and white cinematography] stands up visually against the best Pawlikowski films thanks to the work of all-timer director of photography Robert Yeoman.
Luke Hicks, Film School Rejects

[It features some of] the most dizzyingly inventive shots Anderson has ever cooked up (which is saying something).
Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

Each frame [is] so drolly composed that its meticulousness itself becomes a joke.
Pat Brown, Slant Magazine


Is there more style than substance?

While it is full to the hilt with stuff – so much stuff! – it sorely lacks any real substance.
Jo-Anne Titmarsh, HeyUGuys

There isn’t much going on beneath its extraordinary bejeweled surface. The film is – to use a French term – a jeu d’esprit with no depth to its characters or edge to its satire.
Nicholas Barber, BBC

The marvelous design can prove more engaging than the characters who populate it… leaving the viewer to focus on the packaging as opposed to the content.
Tim Grierson, Screen International

Anderson overwhelms his film with so much detailed whimsy that dramatic conventions, narrative coherence and any deep meaning take a distant back seat to his entrancingly detailed doodling.
Todd McCarthy, Deadline

[It’s] series of exquisite miniatures — amusing, meticulously designed and impeccably executed but maybe not adding up to much more than the sum of their parts.
Steve Pond, The Wrap

The sentiment needed to really sell the wistful conclusion gets buried beneath all the cameos and stylistic flair.
Pat Brown, Slant Magazine


The French Dispatch

(Photo by ©Searchlight Pictures)

Who stands out in the cast?

Jeffrey Wright gives a wonderfully poised performance.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

Wright’s performance may be the strongest selling point of The French Dispatch, and the one that brings it all home.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Wright’s implacable authority is mesmerizing, Lea Seydoux as a prison guard/artist’s muse is a delightful enigma and Lois Smith almost steals the show as [a] wealthy art dealer.
Steve Pond, The Wrap

[Seydoux] brings a fierce, Fraco sullenness that’s particularly intoxicating, lending a kind of local credence with her role to Anderson’s entire folly.
Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

Del Toro and Seydoux’s scenes together are the closest this whirlwind movie comes to finding a human soul.
Nate Jones, New York Magazine/Vulture


What is it like to experience The French Dispatch?

The unconventional project succeeds in delivering that very particular hodgepodge pleasure of reading a well-curated issue from cover to cover.
Peter Debruge, Variety

The experience is akin to flipping through the eccentric pages of the publication in question, overwhelmed by the details streaming in.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Watching this anthology-style film is like leafing through an edition of the magazine, as Anderson takes us from Page 1 right through to “Declines & Deaths.”
James Mottram, South China Morning Post

Watching Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch is a delirious experience. It’s akin to being a guest at some amazing meal, with each course more stunning than the last.
Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

The cinematic equivalent of a brakeless freewheel through a teeming bazaar – if said bazaar was stacked with beautiful vintage artifacts, all meticulously arranged.
Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph


The French Dispatch

(Photo by ©Searchlight Pictures)

Do you need to be a literary buff to appreciate the film?

The winks come as dense and dizzying as guilty-pleasure movie references do in a Quentin Tarantino picture.
Peter Debruge, Variety

Anderson has pointed to the New Yorker as his grand inspiration, and this shines through with plenty of references without ever feeling too insular or alienating to those with less affinity for the publication.
Hannah Strong, Little White Lies

Unapologetically literary, Anderson’s credits thank a pantheon of long-form writers, from Mavis Gallant to James Baldwin, immediately providing a bibliography to delve into to elicit some of the more subtle real-world references.
Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

It will provoke the full range of reactions from the euphoric among pure art devotees to outright rejection by, shall we say, those not on speaking terms with ultra-refined tastes.
Todd McCarthy, Deadline


Will it make us laugh?

The French Dispatch is very funny.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

Apart from Ernst Lubitsch or Jacques Tati, it’s hard to imagine another director who has put this level of effort into crafting a comedy.
Peter Debruge, Variety

Inspired physical comedy figures throughout the film.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

The script is a relentless hoot.
Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph


The French Dispatch

(Photo by ©Searchlight Pictures)

Does it have any major problems?

“The Concrete Masterpiece” is the best of all the stories. By coming first, it sets the following stories up for some emotional misconnection.
Luke Hicks, Film School Rejects

Its sense of busyness keeps it from achieving the emotional impact that its finale is clearly aiming for.
Pat Brown, Slant Magazine

The French Dispatch feels a bit emotionally distant compared to some of Anderson’s other movies.
Rafael Motamayor, Collider


Will we want to see it again?

It’s a film I cannot wait to visit over and over.
Jason Gorber, Slashfilm

Like any print classic, it begs to be leafed over again and again so that new details emerge.
Hannah Strong, Little White Lies

Anderson seems to cram about 20 different movies into a two-hour runtime, and multiple viewings are definitely encouraged to even try and grasp half of what Anderson is trying to do.
Rafael Motamayor, Collider

It’s nearly impossible to follow everything on the first watch. Perhaps still so on the second and third… No doubt that will only make rewatches richer.
Luke Hicks, Film School Rejects

There is just too much to take in… It is a film that would warrant multiple viewings just to absorb those fleeting, marvelous images.
Jo-Anne Titmarsh, HeyUGuys

Some viewers will watch it 100 times and spot new little details every time. Other viewers will walk out or switch off in a matter of minutes.
Nicholas Barber, BBC


The French Dispatch releases in theaters on October 22, 2021.

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