The American filmmaker Wes Anderson has an apartment in Paris and has always yearned to make a French movie but also he has always yearned to make a film about the New Yorker, the magazine with subscribers all round the world, some of whom actually get round to reading it before binning it, and some of whom don’t. (She says, guiltily.) So The French Dispatch is, he has said, the ‘smooching’ of these two ideas, and it is, alas, a ‘smooch’ of a film. That is, not one thing or the other. I would further add it’s as if all the cast had been instructed to act wackily and off-kilter throughout because we won’t get tired of that. But I promise you we quickly do.
This is an anthology film set at The French Dispatch, a fictional magazine, as inspired by the New Yorker, and based in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. (The late critic Roger Ebert once criticised Anderson for his ‘terminal whimsy’; you can understand why.) It stars Bill Murray as the magazine’s editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr., who is based on Harold Ross, the New Yorker’s first editor. However, when I say it stars Bill Murray there isn’t much of Bill Murray. If you manage to cast Bill Murray, which is never easy — he does not have an agent or mobile; you have to leave a message on his answerphone — you would hope for Ghostbusters levels of Bill Murray, or Lost in Translation levels, or Broken Flowers levels, but he’s in just a few scenes. Still, he does better than a host of other stars — Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Elisabeth Moss, Christoph Waltz — where it’s a case of blink and you’ll miss them.