Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s return to the big screen made me ask the following question: Would Wes Anderson’s films still be charming if he made them in a different language? Jeunet’s latest feature isn’t without its charming moments but making a film in English, rather than his native French, seems to have led to something a little too sickly sweet. It’s hardly Jeunet’s first American film; it’s hard for any Alien fan to forget the horror that is the fourth instalment. Jeunet’s quirky style is still present in The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet, and it’s enjoyable enough, but it feels a little bit like an Anderson wannabe. Still, as far as Anderson wannabes go it’s really quite lovely. T.S. is a child genius, living on a remote ranch with his family. His parents are equally eccentric but worlds apart. His older sister, who T. S. describes as wallowing in the role of the “misunderstood actress”, taunts her younger brother and flies in and out of teenage rage. The whole family, we quickly learn, are living in denial about a tragic accident which resulted in the death of T.S.’s twin brother. There is much more to the plot, and probably more prominent parts of the narrative that I should mention but, for me, this is a film about family. Despite the rich cheesy coating that surrounds The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet, it reminded me of my family, (within which I was certainly the misunderstood actress and tortured artist). This is a movie that shares the same spirit as Tim Burton’s Big Fish and, although not managing to become quite its cinematic equally, it also celebrates adventure, human nature and enthusiasm – and, really, what’s the harm in that?
I stupidly and accidentally turned up at the cinema’s 3-D showing of the film. Despite my dislike of the gimmick, I thought The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet actually handled the use of the technology reasonably well and I found myself less irritated by having to wear two sets of glasses than usual. Other than the slightly muffled narration, that I found difficult to hear clearly at several points, I enjoyed the film on a technical level. The performances are exceptionally good. Helena Bonham Carter, whom I have a mixed cinematic relationship with, brings a fervent performance to a complex and well developed character. Judy Davis is marvellous as a tightly wound, and rather desperate, member of the scientific community and Dominique Pinon makes an amusing and, somewhat expected, appearance. But The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet belongs to Kyle Catlett. The young star of the film is reminiscent of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, although he is a much more natural and believable screen presence. The film tugs a little too hard at your heart strings but it is enjoyable nonetheless. With its unexpected themes of death, guilt and mourning, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is trying to be several types of films all at once. Yes it’s a somewhat twee and sickly movie and yes it’s probably time better spent re-watching Moonrise Kingdom but, hey, a rainy night in with The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet will still be a small delight.
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