The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>The Young & Prodigious TS Spivet</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - The Young & Prodigious TS Spivet

A child prodigy leaves his family to accept an award from the Smithsonian Institute.

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Robert Maillet, Judy Davis, Callum Keith Rennie, Dominique Pinon

10 year old TS (Catlett) is a child prodigy, a young scientific genius stifled by his life on the family farm in Montana. It's been a year since his older brother died in a firearm accident, which TS blames himself for, and the relationship between TS's parents (Bonham Carter and Rennie) has become strained since the tragic event. Against the odds, TS invents a perpetual motion machine and submits his findings to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Unaware of his age, the Smithsonian invites TS to accept a prestigious award for his work. Keeping the matter a secret from his family, who he presumes would disapprove, TS sets off alone on a cross country trek to DC.
Before Wes Anderson, cinephiles looked to French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet whenever they felt in need of a heavy dose of immaculately rendered twee. His latest, based on author Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of TS Spivet, plays like a greatest hits package, but the tunes all sound like cover versions.
The opening act is a rambling mess, as Jeunet throws too much unnecessary information in our direction. As with his finest hour, Amélie, Jeunet obsesses over the minute details of what makes his protagonist tick. We're told an awful lot about TS, yet he never quite feels like a fully formed character.
The relationship between TS and his late brother is equally difficult to get a grasp on. It's a dark subplot for what is essentially a children's film, and Jeunet dances around it to such a degree that it might have been wise to drop it completely.
Working for the first time in 3D, Jeunet at times goes overboard with the extra false dimension, packing his frame with too much information; at times, the film resembles the fridge door of a large and artistically inclined family. In the movie's quietest and least cluttered period, the second act, Jeunet shows just what a great visual stylist he can be, shooting the landscape of the US through an admiring and jealous European lens.
It's unlikely a young audience will accept Jeunet's hyper-real notion of a children's fable, but there's enough to keep fans of the director, and of the rugged American landscape, content. Watch out for a Chaplinesque gag based on the common complaint that 3D makes humans look like cardboard cutouts.

Eric Hillis