Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” may be a signal to change the director needs

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It’s 1996 and a film came out called Bottle Rocket. The film itself was okay, a quirky romantic-comedy story with some off-beat and fun characters. You wouldn’t expect that kind of quality from the box office numbers though as it managed to only make back about a twelfth of what it cost to make the picture. Still, it might just be a promising start for a young, upstart director. 

Fast-forward 25-years later.

Wes Anderson, the director of Bottle Rocket, has released eight more feature-length films and is one of the most celebrated directors in the entire world.

He has developed a style unlike any of his contemporaries. His dialogue is slick, his comedy is on point and his visual composition is so distinctive, that you can pick out nearly any frame from any one of his films and know that he’s the director who made it. His tenth feature-length film has just been released after about a year and a half of COVID-19 delays. The film is called The French Dispatch and the picture would be perfectly suited as a final chapter in this 25-year span.

In watching this most recent installment in Anderson’s catalog, one who is familiar with his work can see frequent glimpses into the director’s past.

Aside from his frequently-used actors like Bill Murry, Owen Willson and Adrian Brody among others; there are also moments that seem to reference some of Anderson’s prior films.

While this has never been Anderson’s style, it’s difficult to see an animated crowd of dogs and not to think of Isle of Dogs (2018), a character wearing a beret while riding a bicycle and not to think of Rushmore (1998), even the parental role Bill Murry has with his writers radiates similar energy to the role he plays in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). There are many more callbacks that currently escape me however, the themes and tropes Anderson has laid throughout his filmography are all here, louder than ever.

Interestingly, this film left me with a much more different feeling than much of his other work. It’s not Anderson’s best or worst film, nor does it refrain from his typical conventions.

This film felt like an end. Perhaps it was because the film ended with the death of a character played by Bill Murry who aside from the Wilson brothers, may be Anderson’s most prolific actor. Perhaps, because this was Anderson’s first film structured as an anthology as he essentially designed the structure to be four short films with one overarching framing device (mind you, short films are hardly a new concept for Anderson, Hotel Chevalier {2007} being a prime example). Perhaps I felt this way due to all the callbacks I mentioned earlier. For whatever reason, this felt important, as if to signal some kind of change.

When I said “end” earlier I by no means meant to imply that I believed The French Dispatch would be Anderson’s final film. As a matter of fact, we know this is false as updates about his upcoming project Asteroid City continue to roll in.

What I hope for is a new application of Anderson’s filmmaking. It’s Anderson’s style that has continued to draw the world to his films. His cinematography, shot composition, and direction will always be iconic and will be discussed for centuries to come; rightfully so. What I mean to suggest is that perhaps now is the time to attempt something radically different.

Unpopular an opinion as it may be, I would be captivated if Anderson used his style for a different type of film or genre than he is not as accustomed to.

A couple of years ago, I saw a Saturday Night Live skit pondering what a horror film directed by Wes Anderson would look like.

The mere idea of such a film is presented as a joke in itself, but are we not curious about what such a film would actually be like? Even if we deem the idea of switching genres as being too radical, why not at least show less commitment to be grounded in reality (an admittedly artistic reality).

Why not explore themes that are even more artistic and fantastical? I’d be very compelled if he emulated the works of another visually striking director in Alejandro Jodorowsky.

What Anderson has been accomplishing has been great but after 25-years, it might be the time to make a shift for the sake of keeping his style fresh.

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