Editors note: Leak Herald’s Read the Screenplay series debuts and celebrates the scripts of films that will be factors in this year’s movie awards race.
The French Dispatch isn’t even half the full title of the movie. On screen, it’s The French Dispatch of the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun. Wes Anderson’s latest film is a collection of short stories, serving as examples of the stories published in the Dispatch.
In the film, the magazine ceases publication upon the death of the editor, Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray). As the staff prepares his obituary, some highlights of the stories he published come to life on screen.
Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) visits the underbelly of Ennui-sur Blasé on bicycle. J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) writes about prisoner and artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), whose muse is his guard, Simone (Léa Seydoux). College students Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) and Juliette (Lyna Khoudri) debate politics as embedded reporter Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) covers their protests. Finally, Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) tells the story of police cuisine and a gang of kidnappers.
Anderson wrote the script and co-wrote the story with Roman Coppola (who Anderson shares an Oscar Screenplay nomination with for Moonrise Kingdom), Hugo Guinness (they co-wrote the Oscar-nominated The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Jason Schwartzman. Anderson said he’d always wanted to do a collection of short stories, and a French-inspired movie since he’s lived in France. He also said The New Yorker’s stories were an inspiration for The French Dispatch’s articles.
Wilson, a college roommate of Anderson’s, confirms he has been a devoted reader since at least their educational days.
Howitzer and the writers for The French Dispatch were based on staff members of The New Yorker. Harold Ross and William Shawn combined to form Howitzer. Joseph Mitchell and Luc Sante inspired Sazerac. Rosamond Bernier inspired Berensen. Mavis Gallant inspired Krementz, and Wright combines James Baldwin, A.J. Liebling and Tennessee Williams.
Schwartzman, who co-wrote The Darjeeling Limited and Isle of Dogs with Anderson, said they followed the same process for The French Dispatch. Namely, they make up the story as they go along rather than outlining it in advance. It’s worked so far.
The French Dispatch premiered at the Cannes Film Festival after being delayed a year because of the pandemic and opened via Searchlight Pictures on October 22.
Click below to read the screenplay.