(On Cable TV, April 2016) Any new Jean-Pierre Jeunet film is an occasion to be happy, even when they don’t quite work. While The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet doesn’t approach Jeunet’s finest films (the best of which remains Amélie), it still packs more visual inventiveness than any other three movies by other directors. The story is suitably eccentric, as the youngest offspring of a grieving western-USA family invents a perpetual motion machine (no points for hard science here) and sets out alone on a cross-country trip to deliver a speech in Washington. Shot in English in North America, this still feels like a very Jeunet film, marrying a quasi-retro vision of the world with frequent visual effects for a result that often tries for charm. For such a polished film, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet has flown under the radar for a long time and holds a few surprises: Canadian viewers will be surprised to see Rick Mercer pop us as a talk-show host in a film that also features Helena Bonham Carter (looking really good), and Jeunet stalwart Dominique Pinon. For all its qualities, though, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet doesn’t quite work as well as it should. Making grief a dominant emotion of the film undercuts some of its more whimsical moments, reminding us at odd times that there’s a big tragedy lurking under the quirkiness. It’s not easy to just sit back and enjoy the film, taking away what’s usually one of Jeunet’s strengths. Nonetheless, it’s time well-spent—the inventiveness of the film papers over some rougher moments, and any Jeunet film is enough to brighten a day.
(In-flight, August 2010) One of the advantages of watching a film by a visual stylist is that there’s always something to enjoy even if the story itself isn’t that interesting. So it is that Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs is at the same time a typical Jeunet production (quirky characters, ever-shifting visual presentation, elaborate Rube-Goldenesque details, intricate cinematographic polish, etc.) and yet far short of career-best Amélie. There just isn’t enough universally-compelling material in here to keep things interesting, especially when it feels so one-sided in favour of its protagonists. The anti-arms-trade message is heartfelt, but becomes too-obvious at its worst. Still, it’s entertaining to watch, in no small part due to the escalating set-pieces in which events are set in motion with grandiose consequences. It flies past smoothly and its visual audacity is terrific. There are a few laughs, but much of the film is just a joy to watch. A word of warning for francophones watching the film’s original sound-track, though: Micmacs is so deeply set in Parisian argot that non-Parisians may find it more useful to turn on the English sub-title track to understand some of the dialogue.