The best Michel Gondry films are tough acts to follow, which is why for every brilliant Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind there's a lukewarm Be Kind Rewind. Luckily, even at his worst, Gondry's work is creative and inventive enough to keep you intrigued throughout.
Sadly, his new effort Mood Indigo (aka L'Écume Des Jours) is yet another not bad but not great flick with tons and tons of charm and mind-bending DIY effects but unfortunately nowhere near the level of intricate dark, surreal wit you'd find in a Charlie Kaufman script. The French film, based on a novel by Boris Vian, sees Romain Duris fall in love with Audrey Tautou's character and get married before she becomes sick and their relationship slowly but surely starts crumbling. The cast also includes Omar Sy as Duris' verbose friend/butler, Gad Elmaleh as his troubled pal and Gondry himself as Tautou's doctor. Also look out for a fun cameo appearance by Alain Chabat as a TV cook.
From the offset, it's crystal clear we're in a Michel Gondry film: everything moves at a stop-motion pace, crazy effect follows crazy effect and the whole thing is terribly clever visually from start to finish. This is the kind of surrealism we've seen in the director's own The Science Of Sleep but, whereas that merged dreams and reality, this is kind of just set in that whimsical world 24/7. And although this means plenty more wacky stuff to look at, it also means a hit-and-miss ratio in terms of clever little titbits. I mean, these effects usually impress more when in small doses, when they pop up at unexpected times. Like the faceless people in the streets in Eternal Sunshine or that girl who turns into a chair in Gondry's short for Tokyo! or even that musical sequence in Human Nature. A magician can't just keep throwing the same kind of stuff at you and expect all of it to wow you. Here, we have some brilliant ideas like the pianocktail, a piano that makes cocktails (duh!), but huge amounts of fluff, unfortunately.
The story itself is nothing we haven't seen before: take Science Of Sleep, add in a soap opera-style lover-is-dying plot and pepper every single moment with vast amounts of random and you've got yourself this movie. If anything, the subplot in which Elmaleh's character becomes obsessed with some writer amusingly called Jean-Sol Partre and his relationship ends in just about the most tragic way possible is far more interesting and deserved to take centre stage. This movie felt a bit like a missed opportunity to take a clichéd rom-com plot, a typical, obvious French cast and satirise the genre and all its usual tricks by going dark, unfamiliar places with it. Again, a sharp Charlie Kaufman script could have done that but Gondry seems to focus on the whimsical aspect of the story far too much, remaining too tame and never taking a chance by going in an unexpected direction. The movie ends up coming off as terribly earnest when it perhaps wasn't meant to. Boris Vian's writings, whether they were novels, thoughts or songs, certainly were more biting than this.
While, as a whole, Mood Indigo isn't a bad film by any stretch (there's a lot to like about it), it's still not quite the director back on top as you still feel he's capable of something much more substantial and unique. Watch the movie for its style but, to see an example of the same type of thing done much better, just go back and check out the superior Science Of Sleep.