(director/writer: Harmony Korine; screenwriter: Avi Korine; cinematographer: Marcel Zyskind; editors: Paul Zucker/Valdis Oskarsdottir; music: Jason Spaceman and the Sun City Girls; cast: Diego Luna (Michael Jackson), Samantha Morton (Marilyn Monroe), Denis Lavant (Charlie Chaplin), Esme Creed-Miles (Shirley Temple), James Fox (the Pope), Melita Morgan (Madonna), Jason Pennycooke (Sammy Davis Jr.), Richard Strange (Abraham Lincoln), Anita Pallenberg (the Queen), Leos Carax (Renard), Werner Herzog (Father Umbrillo), Britta Gartner (Nun), Michael-Joel Stuart (Buckwheat); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Agnès B.; IFC Films; 2007-UK|France|Ireland| USA)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It opens with Bobby Vinton’s 1964 hit song Mister Lonely playing in the background while an American living alone in Paris is impersonating Michael Jackson (Diego Luna, Mexican actor) and is decked out in a surgical mask and wearing high-water black pants while aimlessly riding a mini-bike with a puppet-like object on his shoulder. So begins the latest Harmony Korine (“Gummo”/”Julien Donkey-Boy”) weirdo pic, cowritten with his brother Avi. It’s an aimless pic that proposes to shun a straight narrative in order to say something audacious and show something touchingly dreamlike about those who chose to live their lives vicariously through impersonating celebrities, with only the Abraham Lincoln character not plucked from the pop culture world. Korine, the aging enfant terrible, after being away from the business for nine years must have felt lonely not being the agitator and returns to filmmaking in his third film with a sweeter and more visually playful pic than his others (though not necessarily a more engaging one).
The sugary sweet innocent Michael Jackson character (no adventures with little boys here) tries to survive in Paris as a street performer and his kind-hearted theatrical agent (or perhaps his psychiatrist), Renard (Leos Carax, French director), gets him bookings occasionally and arranges for Michael to make a repeat visit to a nursing home. There Michael meets Marilyn Monroe imitator (Samantha Morton), also from the States, who is impressed with his dancing. They afterwards sip red wine at a sidewalk cafe and she tells Michael she met on a cruise ship and later married Charlie Chaplin imitator (Denis Levant) and have a seven-year-old daughter who is a Shirley Temple (Esme Creed-Miles) imitator. Marilyn invites Michael to stay with them and other like-minded impersonators who live in a commune in the Scottish Highlands and look after sheep, where all have similar stories of trying to live without shame and become somebody different and somebody “better” than their actual selves. Michael accepts the offer and upon arrival at the fairy-tale castle residence (Duncraig Castle at Plockton in Scotland) meets the other ersatz characters that includes: The Pope (James Fox), Madonna (Melita Morgan), Queen Elizabeth (Anita Pallenberg, former heroin addict casualty from the sixties), Sammy Davis Jr. (Jason Pennycooke), the foul-mouthed Abraham Lincoln (Richard Strange), Little Red Riding Hood (Rachel Korine), James Dean (Joseph Morgan), Buckwheat (Michael-Joel Stuart) and the Three Stooges (Daniel Rovai, Mal Whiteley, Nigel Cooper). In this utopian community the imitator performers strive to put on a gala show for themselves and for the community. But there’s a fly in the ointment in paradise, as the imitators follow the same path as their counterparts and their fate thereby tracks along the same life experiences of their real counterparts where tragedy, jealousy and, uniquely for them, they must also face a livestock disease.
If this daffy tale wasn’t enough to keep you occupied questioning your sanity in seeing such a pic, there’s a parallel and even more daffy story taking place that’s set in the jungles of Central America. Here a nun (Britta Gartner) while dropping bags of rice over poor villages accidentally falls out of a plane that’s piloted by the social-activist priest (Werner Herzog, German director). The nun, without a parachute, says a prayer on the way down and survives by flying in the air; with this miracle under her blue habit, she then tries to convince her fellow sisters that they too should jump out of the plane without a parachute to test their faith in God. Thereby, supposedly, the Catholic Church can have a bunch of flying nuns to boast about along with all its other miracles it has gathered over the years. I have no clue what all this means or what the usually shock happy Korine is driving at and, for that matter, how it relates to those celebrity imitators in the Scottish Highland (except in some stretch of the imagination you can say that both the nuns and the mimics live in communes and are both searching or trying to convince themselves they have found a purpose in the world; but that’s still a big reach comparing the wacky worldly Jackson to the faith-based nuns). What I do know is that though the film had a quirky quality, a few impressive visuals and tried to be as loving as Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932) was to its subjects, I nevertheless couldn’t warm up to its special charms as everything attempted seemed like an incoherent mess, was unmoving, pretentious and, worst of all, was a bore.
REVIEWED ON 8/3/2008 GRADE: C-