Berkreviews Spencer (2021) and The French Dispatch (2021)

My local theater never gets the independent films that I want to see. Fortunately, I was able to drive just about 40 minutes to a neighboring city that had both Spencer (2021) and The French Dispatch (2021), so I made a day out of it. It was a solid double feature set-up for two very tonally different films. 

My Review of Spencer (2021)

Spencer (2021) is the newest film by director Pablo Larraín and only the second of his that I have seen. I knew this film was about Princess Diana played by the often underrated Kristen Stewart (as many only know her from the Twilight franchise) – but I didn’t know what to expect. I was expecting a more straightforward biopic, but what I got was far more engaging than that. 

Instead of being about her whole life, the movie focuses on a Christmas weekend in the ’90s, which is when Diana was deciding on what to do about her marriage with Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). The film is far from a straightforward biopic, and some of the scenes even lean towards horror. These strong visuals and compelling moments not only give insight into the mental state of Princess Diana but allow for Kristen Stewart to deliver an incredible performance. 

There are moments in Spencer that made me incredibly uncomfortable – but by the end, I was quite compelled and wanted to learn more about Diana. Unfortunately, some of the scenes will not sit well with all audiences, as the imagery may be a bit more than one expects from a movie about a real-life person. For me, Spencer earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating. 

My review of The French Dispatch (2021)

I generally enjoy Wes Anderson movies and his style. The one thing in his movies I love more than the stories and style are the cast, and the French Dispatch is no exception. One regular of Anderon’s work that often doesn’t particularly work for me is Adrien Brody, who turned out to be the biggest surprise of my enjoyment of the film. I expected to love Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, Benicio del Toro, Tilda Swinton, and Timothée Chalamet plus some of the others, but Brody was the performance that I’d not expected to enjoy quite so much. 

This film is broken into three stories – each of which is an article that would appear in the film’s magazine, The French Dispatch. The framing device of why we are seeing these stories is compelling. The first of the big three is The Concrete Masterpiece, and I enjoyed it. This is where Brody gets to shine. However, there were moments when I was starting to worry that I wasn’t going to love the whole experience, as I felt slightly distant from this one. 

Revisions to a Manifesto is where the movie really started to work for me. Chalamet and McDormand really get to shine, and I believe this is the most fun I’ve seen Chalamet have on screen. So often he is tasked with playing moody teenagers with a bit of a hipster style. Here, however, he is playing an angsty college student – but with an air of humor, thanks to Anderson’s quirky style. 

The last entry is The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner and features Jeffrey Wright being interviewed by Liev Schreiber about an article he wrote years before. Wright is bringing ham in the best way possible and makes for a very enjoyable last section. 

While I really enjoyed The French Dispatch, it isn’t my favorite Wes Anderson film. I like each section and how they are connected, but there is something inherently missing from anthology films compared to a standard single-story narrative. I’m never as invested in any of the characters, and the experience feels a little more like having listened to a few anecdotes over a cup of coffee than an investment in a character whose story has moved me in some way. Nevertheless, Wes Anderson fans will probably find enough here to tide them over until his next film, and The French Dispatch earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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