Writer-director Wes Anderson enjoys inventing worlds all his own, then inviting his ever-growing community of actors to occupy them so fully that we, too, become engaged. It’s a risky proposition that sometimes works beautifully (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and often defies the viewer to become absorbed in it (Moonrise Kingdom). There is no “right” or “wrong” response, only a personal reaction to the material at hand.
Here, his inspiration is The New Yorker magazine, founded in the 1920s but riding a wave of literary discovery in the 1950s and 60s. I am a longtime reader, but you don’t have to have to be intimately acquainted with the real-life contributors to recognize them in parody form—still, some degree of awareness doesn’t hurt. Following the format of a magazine, he breaks down his bill of fare to a table-of-contents preview, some sidelights and profiles, and several deep-dive stories.
With exquisite production design by Adam Stockhausen and a superbly-chosen cast, there is more to take in than any individual could hope to process in one viewing. This cavalcade of intricately detailed tableaux is pleasing to the eye, especially since the filmmaker has populated the proceedings with so many welcome actors (Bill Murray, Lea Seydoux, Benicio del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Mathieu Amalric, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, and Jeffrey Wright, to name just a few). But Anderson rushes through some passages and reveals the brilliantly illustrated closing titles at such a breakneck pace that he seems to be teasing us to play a game we can’t possibly win.
This is not the first time Anderson has devoted too much time to minutiae and too little to actual storytelling. Even devotees of his work may find this an exercise in frustration—albeit an exceptionally handsome one. When it was over I felt as if I’d seen preview trailers for at least a dozen interesting films without actually digesting any one of them in its entirety.