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T.S. Spivet lives on a ranch in Montana with his mother who is obsessed with the morphology of beetles, his father (a cowboy born a hundred years too late) and his 14 year-old sister who dreams of becoming Miss America. T.S. is a 10 year-old prodigy with a passion for cartography and scientific inventions. One day, he receives an unexpected call from the Smithsonian museum telling him that he is the winner of the very prestigious Baird prize for his discovery of the perpetual motion machine and that he is invited to a reception in his honor where he is expected to give a speech. Without telling anyone, he sets out on a freight train across the U.S.A. to reach Washington DC. There is also Layton, twin brother of T.S., who died in an accident involving a firearm in the family's barn, which no one ever speaks of. T.S. was with him, measuring the scale of the gunshots for an experiment, and he doesn't understand what happened. Written by
This is the new film from the French Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. You may best know him as the director of Amelie, City of the Lost Children and Micmacs. This time, we have a sweeter and simpler affair: a young prodigy in Montana, the titular Spivet, has invented a 'perpetual motion machine' thereby solving an enigma that has baffled scientist. The discovery is so hot that it even attracts the attention of the Smithsonian institute, who wish to present the boy with an award, unaware of his real age. So, leaving home and his oddball family behind, T.S embarks on a journey across America to receive his prize.
The Short answer: It's really, really good! The Long? Well, where to start? Well given Jeunet pedigree, the visuals are up first, in all their vibrant, almost Technicolor-esque splendour. What's more, this is quite possibly the best use of 3D I have ever seen in a film. The depth of field is phenomenal, and really adds to the storybook feeling of the whole movie. It's sort of like a giant pop up book, which is fitting as that's how we transition between the different parts of the story. Whether it be out on the Montana ranch, looking out of a train or even in the Smithsonian itself, there is always something coming to the fore or floating out, and it's great fun.
Of course, there are other areas. The cast is top notch, with a pretty solid youngster as our lead. He captures the quirks and brainpower of our inventive young lead, alternately able to sell inspiration, determination and even fear a few times, reminding us T.S, for all his brilliance, is still a child. In supporting roles we have the likes of Helena Bonham Carter as his bug-studying mother, Callum Keith Rennie as his cowboy pop, and even Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon as a lively hobo T.S meets on his travels. This is just a shortlist of the people here, but every one does well and their own vibrance and sort of exuberance contrasts nicely with T.S's very straight forward, matter of fact behaviour and logic.
However, all this is but dressing without a decent script here, and well, we have a fine one. It's undeniably Euro-quirk, despite being a Canadian co-production, with a lot of visual gags and little sprinkles of off-quilter and slightly dark scenarios that are played with a slightly humorous bend (not many movies can make people shooting themselves, a cowboy with a lick fetish and even mourning trauma somewhat amusing, last I checked). However, amidst the silliness, there is a good deal of heart. For all his ingenuity, the film very much still presents T.S as a kid; he makes mistakes, he gets scared he misses his family as he goes on his adventure. The film wisely doesn't make him invulnerably just because he's our lead. What's more, there is a strong element here about dealing with death and letting go concerning a tragedy in the Spivet family, and while at first is somewhat there for amusement, the film does take it more seriously as it progresses, and once again, shows how people would react under that circumstance: some bottle it in, some cry and some regret and take blame. For a film with such a bright colour palette, it can get very dark and touchy a handful of times, and it's all the better for it.
Naturally, how much oddball quirk you can take will affect your enjoyment, and there are a few times where the pacing does slow down a little more than needed. Regardless, if you're burnt out by X Men and Edge of Tomorrow, and need something smaller and more out there, give this a shot. It may even leave you a little teary eyed at points, but regardless, if you can get to it, check this film out. It's inventive, touching and refreshingly with a few surprises. Can't ask for more than that.
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