Genius Products // 2008 // 113 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 18th, 2008
"We need a Michael. We don't have a Michael."
"Very good, we have a real miracle."
A lonely Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna, The Terminal) is not having a lot of success. He goes out into the town square, does all of his moves, and waits for people to throw quarters into his bucket. They rarely do. Michael is ready for a change. One day, he meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton, Enduring Love). Marilyn invites Michael to come away with her to a very special place, a place where only impersonators can live. The residents of this place include Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant, Wild Camp), The Pope (James Fox, The Remains of the Day), Abraham Lincoln (Richard Strange, Batman), Sammy Davis Jr. (Jason Pennycooke), James Dean (Joseph Morgan, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), Little Red Riding Hood (Rachel Korine), Madonna (Melita Morgan), Buckwheat (Michael-Joel Stuart), Shirley Temple (Esme Creed-Miles), and others. Michael reluctantly agrees to go along with Marilyn, and soon finds himself in a strange and intoxicating new world.
Meanwhile, somewhere in South America, something very strange has happened. A priest (Werner Herzog, Incident at Loch Ness) and a group of nuns were flying over starving villages, dropping bags of rice down on them from the sky. Unfortunately, one of the nuns accidentally fell out of the plane during the trip. Rather than falling to her death, the nun prayed that she would have the ability to fly, and she was able to do so. Now she is attempting to convince the other nuns that they can fly, and the priest is hoping that this miracle will give him a chance to drink beer with the Pope (the actual one, not the one played by James Fox).
Have you seen the films of Harmony Korine? They tend to be rather polarizing and, indeed, I myself am of two minds about them. On the one hand, his films leave me with fascinating images and ideas. I still can't forget the scene from Julien Donkey-Boy in which German director Werner Herzog wears a gas mask while dancing to bluegrass music. On the other hand, I think that his movies don't really come together as a satisfying whole. After a nine-year break from directing feature films, Korine has returned with a fascinating film called Mister Lonely, which still doesn't quite work, but the memorable moments are more memorable than ever.
In the making-of featurette, Korine confirms something that I suspected while watching the film. He says that he had a specific set of images that he wanted to film, but he didn't know how to make them fit together. So, he took these grand images and crafted a screenplay around setting them up. The movie feels that way, and there are sequences that meander and don't really accomplish much. Even so, the payoff scenes are worth it. Dozens of beautiful, hypnotic shots can be seen in Mister Lonely. Consider the opening sequence, a slow-motion image of "Michael Jackson" and "Bubbles" zooming down the road on a motorcycle. How about the moment with the eggs? Or the flying nuns? Or...but now I'm just making a list. The point is, there are many astonishing sights to be seen in this film. If you value such things, you must see Mister Lonely.
Here more than ever, Korine seems to be drawing inspiration from the great Werner Herzog (who has now acted in two of Korine's films). He yearns to show us majestic things that we have never seen before, something simultaneously strange and awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, he lacks Herzog's ability to make these jaw-dropping images feel organic. Korine seems to be playing a carnival barker here: "Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and see this next fabulous thing!" He also struggles to make his characters human, often preferring to treat them as symbolic figures. Nothing wrong with that, but we should also care about them. This stuff is imaginative, but it's easy to grow detached from Mister Lonely.
Two actors manage to rise above (or is it below?) Korine's often impenetrable style. The first is Samantha Morton, who is positively wonderful as Marilyn Monroe. There is a lot of emotion on display among the actors, but Morton is the one who feels like a real person. Her Marilyn is crumbling on the inside, trapped in a troubled marriage with Charlie Chaplin, and unable to find the joy that she had hoped her safe haven would provide. It's a very fine performance. The other is Werner Herzog, who is nearly as good an actor as he is a director. Yes, he's always more or less playing Werner Herzog, but here is his gift: he always seems sincere. No matter how far off the deep end Herzog goes with his dialogue (and he does, believe me), he delivers it with utter conviction and slightly unnerving calm. He provides my favorite scene in the movie, something that I suspect may be an improvisational sequence. Herzog approaches a man who has been committing adultery and confronts him. This scene plays out remarkably, and Herzog nails every single beat.
I make it sound as if these actors are succeeding in spite of Korine's direction. So they are. But I don't know that I would want things to be handled any other way. The high points of Korine's film might not work if the director were handling things on a more down-to-earth level, and those breathtaking visuals that appear with frequency are the film's primary attribute. Mister Lonely may not be a terribly satisfactory movie, but I've seen plenty of satisfactory films made with far less ambition. I'm glad that Korine made this film, even if it was probably doomed to fall short of greatness from the very beginning.
The transfer is a pretty solid one. This colorful film is quite well-balanced and sharp, and the level is detail is impressive enough for a standard-def release. Audio is solid as well, with a pleasant selection of songs and musical cues getting a strong mix without overwhelming anything. Extras include an 11-minute making of featurettes, 35 minutes of deleted scenes (the best is a passionate sermon from Herzog), and the theatrical trailer.
With all of my hemming and hawing thus far, is a rebuttal really necessary? I'll just add one thing. I mentioned that the film was probably doomed to fall short of greatness. The key word there is "probably." I wonder if Korine couldn't have made Mister Lonely a more satisfying experience with a little bit of work. Consider Tarsem's The Fall, which strings together a series of remarkable sequences with a simply but effective story. Or how about Herzog's The Wild Blue Yonder, which uses narration from an alien played by Brad Dourif to add a connecting tissue to a series of remarkable images. Here, Korine can't even find a way to tie his subplot (the priest and the nuns) into his primary story.
Cinema buffs who like their films to be brave, bold, and beautiful should give Mister Lonely a look. Some may find it a little inaccessible, but it works quite well if you can take it on its own terms.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes