IMAGINATION IS CRAZY (YOUR WHOLE PERSPECTIVE
by Kevin Bowen
published February 27, 2008
now playing nationwide
One day, technology might finally take us to
a place where Michel Gondry can simply push a button and project his imagination onto a blank screen, equally amazing us and annoying us with
its hyper flights of fancy.
It will be so much easier for him. No need to
lunk around bulky cameras, adjust the lighting, yell at the intern to hit Starbucks or create a reasonable story. Just plug in your mind, and
it instantly flies over matter.
If such a machine ever comes to exist, it’s
likely that Gondry would have already made a movie about it. In fact, if he has read this review, then he’s probably typing as we speak. From
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to The Science of
Sleep, the realm of imagination has become his lone subject matter. With each passing picture, he seems to be waving a little further
goodbye to all that reality.
The next step looks like Be Kind, Rewind. If the plot, characters, and actions of this new comedy fail to make much sense, then it’s
only because your square mind can’t comprehend the utter richness of his octagonal thinking. Right?
Imagination would seem to be an alien force
in an unglamorous place like
Passaic, New Jersey, which is up there in American conceptions of drabness with places like Peoria, Illinois or Muncie, Indiana. But Passaic is
where Danny Glover and Mos Def tend to a father-son video store. The place probably doesn’t have anything you would actually want to see, but it
will rent you what you don't want to see for a dollar. The two men are often visited and harassed by their likable but spacey neighbor Jerry
(Jack Black), if by “neighbor” you mean the slacker living in a trailer on an abandoned lot next to the nearby power station.
Now, if you were a stock filmmaker wanting to
destroy a store’s worth of VCR tapes as a plot device, you might think up a fire, or a robbery, or something like that. Not Gondry; au
contraire. During an unwise joust with the power station, Jerry gets electrocuted and becomes a walking human magnet. And magnets and
video tape do not mix.
So to keep customers coming in the doors, the
two young men re-film the movies themselves, using homemade video. They then stick them on the shelves. Why they don’t just claim insurance
and order new ones, only Gondry knows. And why any of their customers decide that they like the shoddy product, only Gondry knows that, too.
One thing’s for sure – he ain’t telling.
Watching Black and Def re-doing Ghostbusters with backpacks, vacuum tubes, and Christmas tree tinsel
makes for hearty fun. As do the re-creations of Driving Miss Daisy and 2001. So do a lot of the other fevered homemade films, which are a little like watching Max Fischer’s plays in
Rushmore. The problem is that the imaginative horseplay is all that holds the attention of Gondry. The rest of the film is left too much to
your imagination and not enough to his.
I admire Gondry’s celebration of the
idea that imagination, and not technique, is the first principle of filmmaking. At the same time, it’s not a new idea for film to
explore, and other filmmakers have made the point while maintaining a coherent storyline. Until he returns to that formula, he will remain
just a loose thought in my head.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com