The deconstruction of the notion that is the American Dream is one heavily explored of late. The Wolf of Wall Street, Pain & Gain and Spring Breakers all explore a dark, deranged take on the national ethos, which has made for some captivating cinema. Now, fascinatingly, we delve into such a world from a foreigner’s perspective, as French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet brings Reif Larsen’s popular novel to the big screen.
T.S. Spivet (Kyle Catlett) is an academically intuitive 10-year-old, who discovers he is the recipient of a hugely prestigious award to mark his revolutionary invention of a perpetual motion machine. He therefore sets off on a lonesome road trip to Washington DC, leaving behind his bug-obsessed mother (Helena Bonham Carter), wannabe cowboy father (Callum Kith Rennie), beauty pageant wannabe sister (Niamh Wilson), and twin brother Layton (Jakob Davies).
Famed for his work on Amélie primarily, Jeunet has brought with him that distinctive whimsicality that defines his work – though on this case, it feels contrived and unnatural, rather than enchanting and charming as it usually is. However there is a surrealism prevalent, and the vivaciousness of the aesthetic is memorable, while the use of 3D is enlightening. However it’s one thing to look the part, but herein lies an example of all style and little substance, as the clumsy narrative proves to be detrimental to proceedings.
Nonetheless, a strong leading performance from newcomer Catlett gives us something to truly appreciate, it’s just a shame that Jeunet’s first film in the English language hasn’t been quite so triumphant an endeavour. Perhaps that distinctive European charm just doesn’t translate as well in a Hollywood production. And maybe some words just sound a little less irritating and forced when we don’t actually know what they mean.