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France/Australia/Canada 2013
Directed by
Jean-Pierre Jeunet
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet

T.S.Spivet (Kyle Catlett) is a ten-year-old living with his mother (Helena Bonham Carter), father (Callum Keith Rennie) and sister Gracie (Niamh Wilson) on a farm in Montana. T.S. has a fraternal twin, Layton (Jakob Davies), who is a typical rough ‘n’ tumble young lad, whilst T.S. is science mad, a passion which wins him the prestigious Baird prize, awarded to him by the Smithsonian Institute for his invention of a perpetual motion machine. T.S. hops a freight train across the country to attend the award ceremony where he reveals the dark secret that haunts him.

It is a cliché to describe a film as more, or less, than the sum of its parts but it is, unfortunately at the “less” end of the spectrum, apt in the case of the latest film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amélie (2001) and co-director of Delicatessen (1991). The beguiling signature elements are here – the brilliant visual style, the quirky humour, the dark undertone (as well as an appearance by Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon as a Popeye-like hobo) but the narrative form is lop-sided and the story feels insubstantial, as if the setting of America’s wide open spaces were too vast for Jeunet’s whimsical tendencies.

Recalling Wes Anderson’s films, particularly the marvellous Moonrise Kingdom (2012), the first part of the film in which T. S. introduces us to his eccentric family the film is a charmingly amiable showcase for Jeunet’s visual inventiveness (I have only seen it in 2D but I can imagine that the 3D version would look good, especially when it comes to the road trip). Once he leaves home and crosses the country to Washington D.C. it becomes rather schematic and eventually once T.S. reveals the family tragedy, it starts to feel forced (there is no apparent justification for the behaviour of Judy Davis’s neurotic Smithsonian spin doctor).

If there is one persistent weakness it is with Catlett's performance. Which is not to say that the young fellow doesn’t make a commendable effort but simply a reflection of the fact that he doesn’t have the screen charisma to carry the central role (he is reminiscent of one of Woody Allen's self-portraits as a child) particularly when the script makes such large demands on his ability to deliver sophisticated dialogue.  With the exception of a scene in which Catlett's doesn’t speak, is when T.S. imagines himself calling home Jeunet doesn’t find a way around this and as a result we are never convinced by T.S. as a wunderkind.

The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet has its charms but as a whole is less than satisfying.




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