Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Science of Putting People to Sleep

Why, oh why, Michel Gondry? The Science of Sleep is such a horrible mess of a film. Released post-Eternal Sunshine, Gondry takes on writing duties in addition to directing and flounders without his wingman, Charlie Kaufman. The writing isn't bad. In fact, if you look at it from the perspective of his not-so-hot English, it's quite good. I'm so irritated that I don't even really want to think about this film very much, nor do I want to write my usual novel of a review. It's like Gondry forgot he was making a movie for an audience. He's so totally trapped in his own head. It's a very self-absorbed film. Not conceited, mind you, because I think Michel Gondry is one of the sweetest and least arrogant people in the business. It's like people told him, "Okay, go do whatever you want." And he was like "Yippee!" and went totally nuts. He's a big kid with a coloring book. He not only colors outside of the lines; he colors outside of the whole damn book, the house, and the neighborhood. Creativity is great, but in this film, it all means nothing.

I was left feeling aggravated, bored, and emotionally hollow. Yes, the visuals are great, often spectacular. Some of the images are inspired and fantastically brilliant. If you don't know what it's about, the main character, Stéphane (Gael Garcia Bernal), is an artist who is really messed up in the head, has all sorts of neuroses, and constantly blurs the line between reality and dreams. Some of the dream sequences are amazing. Gondry utilizes clay and stop-motion animation to great effect. It feels like the film is a string of his music videos. Segments would work on their own, and the trailer is one of the best I've ever seen. But put together, it makes no sense and gets annoying. Gondry is trying too hard to be kooky and weird. But to what end? To no end in this case. I know, I know, a failure by a great director is still more interesting than an okay film by a bad director...blah, blah, blah. I believe that, but there were still moments when I was feeling tortured by the sheer agony of the pointlessness. There's virtually none of the authenticity that I love so much about him usually.

Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Stéphanie (how cute, right? Stéphane and Stéphanie...gag), the object of Stéphane's desire. Their relationship is never fleshed out and there's no believability to it, despite the best efforts of Gainsbourg (good, but not great - better in I'm Not There) and Bernal. I tell ya, Gael Garcia Bernal is a trooper. He acts the hell out of this void of a role. It's a really great performance, but I almost feel sorry for him, jumping through Gondry's pointless hoops. Bernal tries so, so hard, and it's really admirable. But nothing could ultimately save the film.

It's visually interesting at times, occasionally there's some clever or funny dialogue, and the performances, by Bernal in particular and some of the supporting cast, are entertaining, though set against an overpoweringly muddled landscape. To be honest, what kept me most engaged was watching Gael Garcia Bernal. I have a massive crush on him and think he's ridiculously hot. He's totally adorable in this film, and I found myself thinking about how cute he was every couple minutes, because there was nothing else to think about. So, at least I had good eye candy.

I'm actually seeing Be Kind Rewind later today, about 24 hours after watching The Science of Sleep. With Be Kind Rewind, it seems like Gondry has found his voice again. It looks pure, joyous, people-friendly, and brilliant. I think it'll be a triumphant return to form. And I can't wait for Be Kind Rewind to erase my memories of The Science of Sleep. Except for the ones of Gael Garcia Bernal being so irresistibly cute. Leave me those, please.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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