Sunday, 7 June 2015

MR. NOBODY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Something execrable to blame the French for

Mr. Nobody (2010)
dir. Jaco Van Dormael
Starring: Jared Leto, Diane Kruger, Linh Dan Pham and Sarah Polley

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Oh joy! Just what the world needed! More whimsy in the cinema!

For this, I blame the French.

Though the director of this godawful pastiche of science fiction, magic realism and whimsy Jaco Van Dormael is a Belgian filmmaker, let us not forget that Belgium itself borders on France and half its population, the Walloons, speak French.

As much as I'd prefer to blame the movie on the Walloons, the fact remains that this Belgian-French-German-Canadian patchwork quilt co-production has a much greater French pedigree than mere Walloonery will allow. So again, let's do the math by examining the French content of the co-production entities: half of Belgium speaks French, Belgium borders France, Germany was obsessed with occupying France and one of Canada's official languages is French.

The sum of the above is clear. We can blame the French with no guilt whatsoever.

In fact, by the end of Mr. Nobody, I was reminded of the lyrics penned by Mel Brooks and sung by the inimitable Dom De Luise in Blazing Saddles:

Throw out your hands/Stick out your tush/Hands on your hips/Give 'em a push/You'll be surprised/You're doing the French Mistake/Voila!

Yes, Voila! A French Mistake, indeed!

When this film was first released theatrically, we were inflicted, around the same time with the release of Jeunet's execrable (and French, 'natch) vat of whimsy Micmacs. Mr. Nobody, a dreadfully pretentious movie that purports to be about something, is finally so confusing and tedious, that it's ultimately not about much of anything at all. And unlike Micmacs, which at least tried (pathetically) to be funny, Mr. Nobody is mind-numbingly humourless.

That said, what might have perked things up in Mr. Nobody could have been a few digitally-rendered appearances from the late, great Chief Dan George as Old Lodge Skins from Arthur Penn's film adaptation of Little Big Man. Given the film's reliance on endless, trippy digital effects, this is not such an odd expectation, especially since our title character Mr. Nobody appears in the opening with Jared Leto (the go-to guy when Jake Gyllenhaal isn't available and, of course in Jake's case, vice-versa) in full old-man makeup, not unlike Dustin Hoffman's Jack Crabb. Being interviewed by a dweeby journalist, not unlike the one played by William Hickey in Penn's seminal 70s western, Mr. Nobody, it seems, is the oldest man alive in a dystopian future.

And boy, does he have a whopper to tell, not unlike Jack Crabb in Little Big Man.

Hell, why didn't Jaco Van Dormael go for a digital merging of Chief Dan George, Dustin Hoffman and Jared Leto in these sequences? It might have made the whole affair palatable. (Well, not really, but it would have been good for a few laughs.)

In reality, it seems Mr. Nobody is a man living in a world where everyone has become immortal except for him and he's part of some odd reality-TV death-watch because he has not succumbed to the stem-cell thing-a-muh-bobby that keeps everyone else in the film alive. He eventually begins to tell his story to the reporter and what we get is a story that gives us several versions of his life, most notably three different relationships with three women he loved, or could have loved, or should have loved (Kruger, Pham and Polley).

Or, uh, something like that. Who the fuck knows?

In his dotage and on the verge of death, he contemplates whether he made the right decisions in his life. The tale is told in triplicate and appears to be rooted in two significant moments from his childhood. This is, however, one of the film's many problems. We're shown how his life could have been when he's forced to choose between living with his mother and father when they decide to separate. We see his life with Mom and then with Dad. But as well, the other significant fork-in-the-road moment occurs when he spies three different little girls - all of whom become his wife in the different imaginings of where his life does indeed go.

Well, which is it? The first or the second? Why both? Well, because the director wanted it this way, that's why. He assumed, no doubt, that it would give him more options to deliver a "mind-blowing" series of stories.

Not content with this incongruity, Van Dormael presents the entire thing in a hodge-podge whilst tossing out teasing references to the "butterfly effect" and "quantum theory". Flash forwards, flash backs - here, there and everywhere - are all presented to be significant with a capital "S".

I was reminded, somewhat, of Kurt Vonnegut's great book (and George Roy Hill's terrific film adaptation of it) "Slaughterhouse Five" where we bounce between past, present and future. It made sense there because the central character Vonnegut creates is "unstuck in time" - a joyous and painful predicament since the character must, for an eternity, experience his birth, life and death. This fractured, intricately-etched approach to presenting the narrative was rooted strongly in the science-fiction "logic" of the piece, whereas a similar approach in Mr. Nobody is there, simply because Van Dormael wants it to be there. Even worse is that the fragmented nature of the movie seems to pull a Christopher ("One Idea") Nolan Memento reverse order to the events.

I think.

Whatever, this movie is dreadful enough without conjuring up memories of Nolan's pretentious 2000 pretence-o-rama neo-noir twaddle.

One of the more idiotic touches in Mr. Nobody is the name chosen for Mr. Nobody in his younger years which is... okay, now wait for it...Nemo.

I mean, Good God! NEMO!!!??? Is writer-director Jaco Van Dormael on crack? Does he really expect us all to "ooohhh" and "aaaahhh" over the apparent genius and GREAT SIGNIFICANCE of naming the younger version of Mr. Nobody with a word meaning "no man" or, if you will, "no one" in Latin. This reference also conjures up that of Captain Nemo in Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", but I suspect Von Dormael was more inspired by the dark fairytale qualities of the brilliant turn of the century comic strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland". If only Mr. Nobody proved to be as significant and original as that work.

It's not.

Mr. Nobody is one of those boneheaded exercises that pretends to be more intelligent than it is. Von Dormael, no doubt, believes in his "genius" and so do the audiences that smugly believe they're watching great art. They can be dazzled by the striking visuals and non-linear quality in order to feel good that what they're indulging in is not a machine-tooled Hollywood blockbuster from Michael Bay.

Van Dormael has created the greatest aesthetic crime - far greater than anything Michael Bay has foisted upon us - he's machine-tooled an art film for dummies.

There's not much to recommend here. However, poor Leto does what he can with the ludicrous role foisted upon him and the movie does feature a great performance from Sarah Polley as one of Nemo's wives. Playing a bi-polar housewife, Polley takes the kind of chances and delivers the kind of performance that proves once again why she's one of the world's great actresses. She's raw and real, unlike the rest of Van Dormael's candy-floss "complexity". But seeing as Polley also appears in Vincenzo Natali's terrific 2009 Splice, you're better off seeing that. You get a great Sarah Polley performance in a movie that respects its audience and manages to serve up something that's as entertaining as it is intelligent.

All that Mr. Nobody serves up, is the pathetic work of one pretentious, overrated, talentless hack:

Jaco Van Dormael.

He's the real Mr. Nobody.

Click HERE for a full explanation of this woeful rating.

Mr. Nobody is available on Magnolia Home Entertainment Blu-Ray and DVD. And get this, it's available separately as an EXTENDED director's cut for all those who might enjoy some cinematic self-flagellation.