|The actor:||Steve Park|
|The film:||The French Dispatch|
|The quote:||“I’ve never tasted that taste in my life. Not entirely pleasant, extremely poisonous, but still, a new flavor. That’s a rare thing in my age.“|
As I write this, one of the more popular AI jests is to create some recognizable IP universe (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc.) with something resembling the style of Wes Anderson. That Anderson is the one who gets picked on for this particular exercise is a mixed hand, to say the least. Anderson has a style that is recognizable even to people who can’t even watch a movie in a theater without their phones, which is some kind of compliment. That this style is recognizable (we might even say individual) is also a small affront to consumers who expect things to come in the dim colors which signify self-seriousness on television. (If it doesn’t look like Succession, can it really be expected to compel us on an intellectual level?) That people want to feed this style in prompt form to AI and then get excited about the results means that their parents weren’t nearly discriminating enough with which scribbles made the fridge.
I find that the hoi polloi are not alone in getting a little bored with the Anderson style. Critics tend to like Anderson better when they can sense that he’s doing something new. Before The French Dispatch came out, I did some research into which of his movies critics thought most highly of. Their top three: The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Rushmore. Each of those does something new to our understanding of Anderson. Tenenbaums presents his eye for stagecraft along with his ear for irony. Grand Budapest Hotel is so unabashedly sentimental that it got a bunch of Oscar nominations. Rushmore, his second feature, is stranger and more personal than Bottle Rocket, and there are a great many critics who have been waiting for something like Rushmore to happen to Anderson. Take this a little further down and you get Moonrise Kingdom (about sweet little kids!) and Fantastic Mr. Fox (stop-motion!). Lower than those are the repeat Andersons. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, about an unlikable patriarch driving everyone else nuts, is not a winner; in a similar train, The Darjeeling Limited gets after family dynamics in a way that you can feel people getting bored with. Isle of Dogs: another stop-motion movie friendly to kids?
I’ve called The French Dispatch Anderson’s best; I’ve gone so far as to call it one of America’s 250 best movies. It is tougher to come to an Anderson movie with an open mind than it is to come to a Michael Bay movie with an open mind. (Vulgar auteurism is easier to stump for than prissy auteurism.) That’s reflected in the negative reviews of The French Dispatch, which describe a picture which is style over substance rather than a picture where the substance is deeply affecting. Through a knowingly silly situation, Anderson gets to wonder if art is more than just commodification; can it be great art if it’s permanently inside a correctional institution and the artist is a somethingpath? Through reflexively goofy black-and-white cinematography and a doofy mustache on Timothee Chalamet’s Audrey Hepburn-cute visage, Anderson gets to take us into the flaws of journalistic perspective. Through the last story, an absolute triumph, Anderson invites us to imagine what it’s like to experience something new when you think you know it all. In other words, The French Dispatch asks if Anderson is still capable of a new flavor after reaching this advanced age. There’s regret in this movie, a purer heartache, that Anderson hasn’t ever welcomed previously. Here the invasion of endings works into the veins without being cut with winks or whimsies, and that’s exemplified by this slightly sad but mostly revelatory line.
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