The French Dispatch

Written by Taylor Baker

65/100

Yet another Covid belated release bows in theaters this awards season push, nearly two full years since it’s screenplay was available for purchase in France. Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch is now on multiplex screens around the country. With all the formal panache and tweeness Anderson is known and largely renowned for. The French Dispatch is a staggered vignette anthology film that mostly ties together by the end, not unlike The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The last Coen Brothers film which was released on Netflix in 2018 to mixed reactions from audiences. For Anderson fans The French Dispatch will feel like a familiar experience with plenty of stylings, witticisms, and casting choices that make you feel right at home.

For non-Anderson fans though, the throughline of a narrative expressly about Ennui the word and place may seem more than a bit much. Each part is composed of different elements that are all tonally similar, but largely develop into delightful little offshoot excuses for Anderson to experiment with different subplot arcs. Ranging from kidnapping, shoot outs, high stakes chess, chase sequences, nudity, animation, prison, and “Art”. As one would expect from differing sequences with varied elements some stand out more than others, but each is formally presented with the rigor and exacting visual standards that accompany one’s mind when they ruminate on Wes Anderson.

The opening sequence recounts the founding of a publication in Ennui-sur-Blasé, France called the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun. Pitched as a chance for a young Arthur Howitzer Jr. later played by Bill Murray to get his feet wet in the family business and learn about the world. The subsequent sections are each far more rich and detailed than this opening until we reach the end of the film which acts as a book end to the beginning, this time comprised almost entirely of men and women we’d grown to know over the runtime. The three major segments of the film are:

1. The Concrete Masterpiece which is framed by J.K.L. Berensen played by Tilda Swinton as she recalls the story of an artist in a maximum security prison played by Benicio Del Toro, his muse and prison guard played by Lea Seydoux, Adrien Brody the incarcerated man who discovers and buys Del Toro’s Moses Rosenthaler’s art, as well as a host of other talented actors and actresses. This particular sequence is easily my favorite, and presents some choices that feel new or at least uncommon for Wes.

2. Revisions To A Manifesto written and presented to us by Frances McDormand’s Lucinda Krementz. Revisions To A Manifesto recalls the story of Krementz who lives alone by choice and is unknowingly setup on a dinner date by friends with Christoph Waltz. On her way to the bathroom after some tear gas causes a single tear to begin rolling down her cheek she encounters a young and impassioned Timothée Chalamet. He’d snuck home and into the bathroom to bathe after a hard day fighting the good fight of youthful idealism against the establishment. The segment is mostly conversational and coyly addresses politics, youthful idealism, disillusionment, and the deification of dead youth.

3. The Private Dining Room — of the Police Commissioner presented by Jeffrey Wright’s Roebuck Wright with brief appearances by Liev Schreiber, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, and Mathieu Amalric, as well as others. Consists of a story in which Wright’s character Wright is invited for dinner with the police commissioner played by Amalric for a piece that he has been tasked by Murray’s Howitzer Jr. with for the paper. When the commissioner’s son is kidnapped during their meal it turns into a wry rescue mission story that capitalizes in a delightful if on the nose sequence where Wright digs the last page of the piece out of the trash and Howitzer Jr. tells him that’s the reason to the write the piece.

Anderson reteamed with cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman who has worked on and off with him since his sophomore feature Rushmore. As well as editor Andrew Weisblum who has worked with Aronofsky since The Wrestler. It’s always hard to tell where Anderson’s choices begin and end and where a crafts persons work begins, but the collaboration between these three appeared effortless and seamed together with enough ease that no transitions felt jarring, which isn’t an easy task in anthology films. Though The French Exit lacks the enveloping romanticism I’ve found in my favorite Anderson films it’s an intriguing formal exercise from a master. Luckily the viewing experience wasn’t one of ennui, despite it being our destination.

The French Dispatch Trailer

The French Dispatch is currently playing in theatrical wide release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Written by Patrick Hao

45/100

In past thirty years, the famous televangelist, Tammy Faye Bakker, has gone through a rehabilitation of her image, especially in the gay community. A lot of that has to do with her openly talking and accepting gay men during AIDs epidemic on her show, something that would still be unheard of today in the evangelical community. Another reason might be the opulence of Tammy Faye. Her famous makeup, iconic Joan Crawford “eyes,” and high-pitched squeak of a voice are a heightened form of femininity in a way that makes her ripe to become a gay icon. Her status grew with the 2000 documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, two directors whose subjects are often gay icons.

It is with this context that brings The Eyes of Tammy Faye, an adaptation biopic of the famous 2000 documentary. The director Michael Showalter, a staple of sketch comedy groups the Slate, has been dutifully directing nice, easygoing dramedies such as The Big Sick and My Name is Doris in the last few years. When it comes to his direction of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, I couldn’t quite understand why her story needed to be told.

Told like a standard biopic (it even opens with Tammy Faye getting ready for one final big performance) the film portrays the Tammy Faye story with a pitying reverence.  We see Tammy Faye grow up in a religious home, one in which she is ostracized by the community because her mother (played by the always dependable Cherry Jones) is considered a harlot for having Tammy with her first husband. But this is presented as what fueled Tammy’s love of God.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

Eventually, an Icarus like class fall which permeates these types of movies begins to take place. At the height of their power, excess of money and materialism by both Bakkers begins to overtake their priorities. Tammy Faye, however, is all but exonerated from any misuse of funds – something that was also a problem with the original documentary. Instead, she is portrayed as being blissfully oblivious to any wrongdoing, choosing to stay silent instead of asking questions.

That is the biggest problem with both the original documentary and Showalter’s direction. It is too reverential to Tammy Faye’s story and confuses any messages or themes that a viewer might come away with. Showalter does not have the ability to be a satirist like Scorsese did with Jordan Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street. Nor does the film ever give reason for us to empathize with Tammy Faye’s choices. Any criticisms of American evangelicals or the cult of celebrity seems hollow and well-trodden. This is all done much better on HBO’s woefully under-seen The Righteous Gemstones, a satire with a more biting edge that does not have to pay deference to a cult icon.

If this movie offers anything, it is a vehicle for Jessica Chastain to get an Oscar nomination. Her performance as Tammy Faye Bakker is not embarrassing but is the type of unrestrained performance  that is fodder come Oscar time. She, like the real-life Tammy Faye is going to garner a lot of attention for her showiness but leans too heavily on makeup and prosthetics.

Only towards the end was there a sense that the filmmakers had any grasp on why this story is worth telling. But, by then it is too little too late.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye Trailer

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is currently screening in limited release and was feature at the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.