Monday, 7 December 2015

Film Review #84

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet Starring: Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter, Callum Keith Rennie, Niamh Wilson, Judy Davis, Jakob Davies, Dominique Pinon

Certificate: 12 Running Time: 105 Minutes

Tagline: "A Journey in 3D by Jean-Pierre Jeunet."

I've been a fan of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's for a good few years now, at least in part because his films often feature similar kinds of unusual stories and quirky characters as my very favourite director, Wes Anderson, and his directorial style isn't that dissimilar either. This film is his latest effort and the first in English (also the first to be filmed in 3D), but despite the change of language as well as continent, the story is typically unique. It's based on the début novel by Reif Larsen and, as the title suggests, it revolves around T.S. Spivet who is indeed young and prodigious. He's actually 10 years old and lives on a remote ranch in Montana with his entomologist mother, Dr. Clair (Bonham Carter), his unnamed cowboy father (Rennie) who was seemingly 'born a hundred years too late', and his bratty 14-year-old sister Gracie (Wilson) who dreams of becoming Miss America.

T.S. sets out on his long journey...

His family would be unusual at the best of times but at the time we meet them they are struggling to get over the recent death of T.S.'s twin brother, Layton (Davies), who was fatally injured in a firearm-related incident in the family barn while he and T.S. were conducting an experiment. Although according to T.S. "no one ever speaks of" the incident, they are all feeling the effects and dealing with their grief in their own way. Dr. Clair obsesses over her work classifying beetles, T.S.'s father mopes around doing little and speaking even less, while Gracie seems to be mad at everyone and everything. T.S. himself is very intelligent and has a passion for cartography and scientific inventions. He spends much of his time on experiments, rustling up various creative devices, reading, and attending lectures, and it's during one of the latter that he's given an idea for his next project.

Dr. Claire hard at work and ignoring Gracie ...

Soon afterwards he receives a call from the Smithsonian, to whom he apparently sent his design for a 'perpetual motion machine'; they have awarded him the prestigious Baird prize for his invention and want to hold a dinner/ceremony in his honour, unaware that he's a mere child. So, does he reveal the startling truth? No, he ups and leaves his family without word and embarks on a journey across the U.S. to receive his prize! While you might not think these are actions befitting a little genius, it doesn't take much of the film to sympathise with his rather drastic actions. His mother largely ignores him (and everyone else) while his father had a clear preference for Layton to begin with who was a budding little cowboy himself in direct contrast to T.S.'s quiet, studious manner, and Gracie just acts as though perpetually put-upon, although she may have been like that anyway.

Two Clouds entertains T.S. with one of his stories...

They are not roles that stretch the actors either, really - the lovely Helena Bonham Carter is as fine as always but capable of much more while Rennie has few scenes and even less to do in them besides brood, and there are few other characters in the film. One stand-out is Judy Davis as G.H. Jibsen of the Smithsonian who takes T.S. under her wing (in an exploitive kind of way) and it's great to see Jeunet stalwart Dominique Pinon in his usual cameo as Two Clouds, a peculiar-but-friendly fellow who works (or lives) near the railway. This is Catlett's show though. The film is named after his character after all, and he's in almost every frame of the 1hr 45 mins running time. With that in mind, Jeunet was asking a lot of any young actor and needed a strong performance to pull the role off. I've seen a bit of criticism here and there but I think Catlett does pretty well.

T.S. and Dr. Claire discuss his invention on a chat show...

He might not be totally convincing all of the time but he does a pretty damn good job if you ask me. He's not one of those weirdly-talented child actors who seems more like an adult - he's definitely a kid and performs like one, but he is also appealing and holds the screen well enough for me, especially for a (film) débutante. The film itself is fairly typical of Jeunet's style. It touches on some familiar themes and, much like with some of his previous films, he demonstrates a slightly romanticised view of the world which, while not always totally realistic, is as quirky and appealing as usual, and a touching tale of a tragic accident and a family's way of coming to terms with it. It's a bit strange that it was marketed as a 3D film though - use of the effect is creative but it's so much more than that and just as enjoyable without it. Amélie remains Jenuet's finest work but this is another unique and thoroughly memorable effort from the French auteur.

RKS Score: 9/10


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