Take a Drink: every time a toaster bites it
Take a Drink: for every map or diorama
Take a Drink: whenever Spivet is precocious to the point of annoyance
Take a Drink: for colorful characters
Do a Shot: for animal cruelty
By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of my favorite filmmakers. Amelie is just joy incarnate, and A Very Long Engagement is one of the finest wartime dramas ever. Other films like Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, and MicMacs show his energetic, whimsical style, one wholly his own. However, before The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet, Jeunet had only made one English-language film.
For the most part (except for the existential horror) this is entirely different. T.S. Spivet is a little genius boy living in Montana with his rancher dad (Callum Keith Rennie), entomologist mom (Helena Bonham Carter), wanna-be actress sister, and brother who’s the spittin’ image of his dad. Some indeterminate time after a gun accident involving the two boys, T.S. runs away and hops a train to Washington to claim the prize for inventing the first perpetual motion machine.
On paper, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s whimsical, high energy, visually inventive style is a perfect fit for this bittersweet, imaginative material. During a few inspired moments, such as a boardroom meeting of all of the conflicting motivations in a teenage girl’s mind, it’s exactly that. These moments are too few and far between, though. Also, the film is indisputably shot beautifully by Thomas Hardmeier, and Dominique Pinon shows up as a hobo!
J-P J fans, represent!
I hate to pin this on Kyle Catlett, the kid, but he’s just not a very good actor. Or, more accurately, he’s not up to playing a preternaturally intelligent 10 year old with an adult’s existential ennui and a scientist’s vocabulary. Ten year old Jason Schwartzman probably could have pulled it off, but I can’t think of many others who would’ve had a chance. Still, since the entire film hinges on it, and Catlett often struggles even to pronounce the words that are supposed to be in this character’s everyday vocabulary, it’s a deal-breaker.
Even worse is Judy Davis, who thinks she’s some sort of 90s Direct to Video kids movie villain or Snideletta Whiplash or some fucking thing. Her performance goes so far over the top that it falls over itself into a recursive loop of shitty acting.
An ouroboros of suck, if you will.
The main problem of the film is how tone deaf it comes off as. Scenes will seesaw from whimsical and fun to depressing to philosophical to broadly comedic and more, without ever establishing any of them convincingly. The pacing also lacks energy precisely when it should have plenty of it, a curious problem considering that is usually one of Jeunet’s strengths. It’s like the studio wrestled it from him and Frankensteined together the most mediocre cut possible. That didn’t happen, though, so… maybe it should have?
It’s really difficult to tell who this is for. It’s adapted from a kid’s (or YA, whatever) book that might have had all of these themes, but let’s run them down anyway: fratricide, survivor’s guilt, the death of love, suicidal thoughts, child exploitation, animal cruelty… it’s like Michael Haneke made a children’s movie. Judy Davis calling a 10 year old a “motherfucker” is just icing on the cake.
I love Jean-Pierre Jeunet, so it pains me to tell you how bad this muddled, tonal mess of a movie is. Maybe stick with French, Jean-Pierre.