November 25, 2008
Reviewer: Jeffrey Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***
The 35 year-old filmmaker Harmony Korine (Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy) co-wrote his long-awaited third feature film, Mister Lonely with his brother Avi, cast his wife Rachel in one of the lead roles and dedicated the film to his late grandmother. And so it goes that Mister Lonely is about a kind of family. Diego Luna plays a Michael Jackson impersonator, hereafter known as Michael. He works the streets of Paris, copying Michael's famous dance moves and wearing Michael's strange clothing (black fedora, glittery marching band shirts, high-water pants, etc.). He never sings, but the film's four segments are named after Jackson songs. Michael meets Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton), who invites him to stay at a kind of commune for celebrity impersonators. Her husband Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant) and their daughter Shirley Temple (Esme Creed-Miles) also live there. The rest of the "family" includes Buckwheat, of "The Little Rascals" fame (Michael-Joel Stuart), Sammy Davis Jr. (Jason Pennycooke), James Dean (Joseph Morgan), Abraham Lincoln (Richard Strange), Little Red Riding Hood (Rachel Korine), Madonna (Melita Morgan), The Pope (veteran British actor James Fox), Queen Elizabeth (Anita Pallenberg) and the Three Stooges: Moe (Daniel Rovai), Larry (Mal Whiteley) and Curly (Nigel Cooper). (Incidentally, Fox and Pallenberg are reunited for the first time since Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's 1970 film Performance, no doubt on purpose.) Lincoln uses the "F" word a lot, Buckwheat is obsessed with chickens and the Pope doesn't like to bathe.
Marilyn kind of flirts with Michael, and he is clearly smitten with her, but Charlie has a kind of menace that the real Chaplin never had; he even leaves his wife sleeping in the sun, causing her to burn terribly. The commune's flock of sheep falls ill and must be exterminated, and then everyone bands together to build a theater to put on a big show, "The Greatest Show on Earth." Fortunately the show isn't a fundraiser to prevent evil developers from tearing down some old building; it's just a show. In a parallel story, a priest, Father Umbrillo (Werner Herzog) takes three nuns on a mission to drop food out of a plane to needy recipients below. One of the nuns falls out of the plane and lands, unhurt. She decides that God wants other nuns to jump out of planes, so she begins her quest to persuade them.
So where's the story? Korine isn't one for dramatic tension. More often than not, we simply watch as characters go about their day. Little Red Riding Hood sings, James Dean writes something in a notebook and the Queen washes dishes. Korine doesn't care how these people got to be this way, or how they turn out. He wants to draw us in, but also push us away. His ultimate trick is that he likes to shoot his actors from distances, so that they look a bit like the real McCoys. It's disappointing to find that they're not, but it's also even more intriguing to wonder: who are they, then?
Posted by cphillips at November 25, 2008 12:25 PM