It’s a nifty feeling when you can revel in a film whose driving engine is closely built atop something else you’ve read or seen before. No, I don’t mean reboots or sequels.
Prime example: all the reviews I’ve read for The French Dispatch embraced its key objective as an homage to The New Yorker. Apart from clicking on the occasional Richard Brody pieces until I hit my monthly paywall limit, The New Yorker has never been my thing. Accredited critics apparently have lifetime subscriptions to it and were overjoyed to have Wes Anderson spinning tales within their distinguished frame of reference. Not that I’m begrudging them the chance to enjoy intellectual dividends on their literary investment, but I confess I sighed in relief when it received zero Academy Award nominations. The last time I sat for two hours repeating to myself over and over, “I don’t get it,” it was while watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which posed similar paradigm alienation for me. I wasn’t looking forward to recreating that experience for my Oscar Quest ’22 and am now not self-obligated to include it.
Meanwhile in Japan, one Ryusuke Hamaguchi — a new name to me because I’ve never been to a film festival or a theater in NYC or L.A. — co-wrote and directed Drive My Car, which loosely adapts a short story but whose narrative and thematic foundation is Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. As luck would have it, that particular play has popped up twice in my life — in one college class that I barely remember (I had the Cliffs Notes) and again in preparation for a comic con.