Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mister Lonely

I knew I had to see this movie because it was what inspired Jason Pierce of Spiritualized to finally finish Songs in A&E, which was without question my favorite album of 2008. Already, without viewing a frame, I knew this movie was important to me. I knew little about the plot, and what little I knew about the director kind of frightened me. Here was a guy whose most famous script was just horny teenagers doing drugs and each other. He made a film following the Dogme 95 manifesto, which I might get a chance to rail against but it's pretty much the opposite of what makes a good movie. But there was that connection to that amazing album that I absolutely adored. I knew that there was a very good chance I wouldn't like it, but I had to see it. And then, I viewed a frame, and it showed a Michael Jackson impersonator riding a tiny motorcycle around with a stuffed monkey attached to it.


The movie is about that Michael Jackson impersonator, feeling alienated yet funky in Paris. One day, he is entertaining some people in a senior's home (part of which involves telling them they don't have to die), and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator shows up. She catches his eye, since she's hot, and tells him all about a magical utopia for celebrity impersonators where she lives, and how he should come too. There he meets a variety of other celebrity impersonators, most important being Marilyn's husband Charlie Chapman and Abe fucking Lincoln, my personal favorite. Since a movie needs a story, it's eventually revealed that the idyllic fake celebrity paradise has some very big problems that not even the sweariest Abe Lincoln can solve. Also, nuns jump out of airplanes.

This is a film of heartbreaking, tranquil beauty. Part of that is the way it's filmed, heavy on the slow motion and long, often unbroken scenes of people playing or talking to themselves or other beautiful moments of nothing. Part of that is the spacey score, a style familiar to any Spiritualized fan (and I am a huge, HUGE Spiritualized fan). It's simply a beautiful score matched to similarly beautiful images, hinting at the tragic nature of the film but never going to outright state it.

The movie starts as something surreal and otherworldly, but like the nuns in the airplane, it all comes down slowly as the human flaws in the characters eventually reveal themselves and pull the ideal world down around them. The primary example of this is Charlie Chapman, whose jealousy of Michael Jackson drives him to mistrust and mistreat his wife. One of the best scenes in the movie is when he allows her to fall asleep and get sunburn, and then intimately touches her, knowing that whatever he touches will be in pain. It's a scene of astonishing cruelty, but it's also subtle and quiet, laying out themes and greater meaning without calling too much attention to it.

It's about people becoming themselves through pretending to be someone else. The commune where the impersonators live is a place of wonder and imagination, but steadily events happen are a reminder of how reality often intrudes on that wonder. There's some obvious symbolism in them all being impersonators, and there's always a feeling that the wonder that they feel cannot last, and they'll have to eventually come back to reality and face themselves. But, those brief moments when you can share in their fantastic, dream-like state, it's not so bad that reality is far away, and you can feel close to all of the characters and their basically good nature. It's sad not simply because of the events, but because there's a certain innocence lost, and you know the characters can no longer live their lives hidden away and wearing their masks. Their world is a nice place to be, but the film has to have it end so we know we can't stay there either.

Other reviewers have gone and called it dull, and I can kind of see their point. There are long passages where nothing much happens, and scenes which seem to exist simply because they amused the director (a great example of this is a young kid going on about breasts, or a sequence about the pope needing a bath). If you can't get into the film, you're going to wonder what the point of all the meandering is. If you can, however, you don't mind so much because it's all a part of the little fantasy world Korine has created. The film invites you in, and if you don't want to take its hand and go along for the ride, you're going to hate it and it's odd tangents.

Even if the film has its flaws, there are moments where even the hardened cynic can appreciate the quality of film-making going on. Apart from the aforementioned sunburn scene, there's another lit entirely with flashlights, where you can only see the reactions on the face of the people who matter. I can't say much more due to the content being a fairly major plot twist, but it's a case of light and shadow being used to great effect to tell a complete story. Even the people who don't like it can admit there are moments of beauty in there, and whether or not they're worth the whole depends on how much you embrace the entire vision.

It's odd that I am in a position where I adore a movie but am not sure I could, in good conscience, recommend it to anyone else. If you give yourself to it, it can be stunning, touching, heartbreaking and tragic. If you don't, you might find yourself wondering where it's going and why you're bothering. I was hooked, and I hope other people are too, but I can't guarantee it. There is little doubt that you won't see much else quite like it in a long time, so if you're looking for something different and can embrace something strange and wonderful like this, it's worth the effort.

Also, there is a scene where a nun jumps out of an airplane on a bicycle.

(Disregarding my random time rule because seriously this is an awesome image.)

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