*** out of ****
After he made "Julien Donkey-Boy" in 1999, writer-director/provocateur Harmony Korine's already unstable life came crashing down upon him like a big ol' wave. A tragically large fire burned down his house, destroying a script that he had been working on via his computer - prompting him to spend good money to try and recover it, only emerging with a single sentence - and better yet, he descended deeper into drug abuse. Also, Korine's girlfriend Chloe Sevigny broke up with him, presumably over his rapid drug use over the years among other things, and he lost the passion to want to make films any longer all-together. With that, he started touring various countries - drugs always at his side - waiting for...something, a miracle perhaps. Suicide was a possibility, given his current mental and emotional state. Korine was hopelessly lost and depressed. Then, along came Agnes B; a fashion designer who took a liking to Korine and his filmography. She agreed to help Korine get back on his feet as both a filmmaker and a human being; eventually helping to produce what would be his next film, "Mister Lonely".
Indeed, there was an eight year gap between this and Korine's previous feature. One can tell; everything Korine has done up to this point is so different from what he's accomplished here. "Mister Lonely" - while as odd, beautiful, and insanely sublime as the director's other films - is easily his most accessible (?) feature to date. That is to say that if there was ever a Harmony Korine picture that a particularly large group of people had the potential to shamelessly admit they like, this would be it. It is, like the last two films from Korine, imperfect and far from indulgent to everyone's personal taste when it comes to cinema; but it's also an assault on the senses, complete with absolutely spellbinding images and music that is at one moment foreboding, and at another evocative of the loneliness cropped up inside of us all. This is, more or less, the director's most personal project yet.
So what is the plot? You might be thinking, "Oh boy, here we go" if you've seen any of Korine's other films - most of which a good majority of critics deem virtually "plotless" - but hold on, like I said; this one's a bit different in comparison to "Gummo" and "Julien Donkey-Boy". It concerns a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) who works and lives in Paris, forever alone, as the great internet meme goes. He goes unnoticed most days, and would get a better and perhaps even higher-paying job, if the thought would cross his mind to begin with, which is doesn't. He believes he was born a Michael Jackson, and that impersonating the legendary musical figure is what he was created to do. One day, while on the job, he meets a rather lovely Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) who opens up new doors for the isolated and loveless (but nonetheless friendly) being that is Michael. Just like that, the two are friends, and Marilyn invites Michael to come with her to a commune in the Scottish Highlands, where she lives.
Here's the catch: everyone else on the commune is also an impersonator. You've got Abe Lincoln, Charlie Chaplin (who is married to Marilyn Monroe), Madonna, Shirley Temple, The Queen, The Pope, Sammy Davis Jr, Little Red Riding Hood, James Dean, Buckwheat, and the Three Stooges. Of course, they welcome Michael with open-arms and elaborate hospitality; even though they have a great many issues on their minds at the moment. For example, the impersonators are all pitching in to try and create a grand show, where they will perform (hopefully) in front of a large crowd. Not many people even know of their existence, most likely, but they assume with much confidence that by the time they're through with the show, they will rise to stardom. Another more problematic topic is sickly livestock, which causes emotional panic amongst the commute residents. Meanwhile, there's a strange but undeniably whimsical sub-plot that involves a priest (Werner Herzog), located in some Third World Country, who tries to convince a convent of nuns that God shall protect them from death, and therefore they must skydive. If you think you know what that looks like, think again.
Yes, he's a little bit special - not to mention down-right whacked from time to time - but there's no denying that Korine is an exceptional talent in the world of the visual medium. Nearly every frame in "Mister Lonely" is jam-packed with message-making beauty. I don't know the story behind everything I saw, but the background research that I did do served me well. Take, for instance, a scene where Diego Luna's Michael Jackson character paints eggs and hallucinates upholding a conversation with an entire row of them near the end; where he is even lonelier than he was before. The scene was inspired by one of Korine's very own personal hobbies - during his own times of loneliness - which was, yes, painting the faces of celebrities and people onto eggs. Only the most heartless of people will say that there is nothing to such scenes - or images - and that the film is completely devoid of merit. It will not affect everyone, and it didn't necessarily resonate with me too much on a purely emotional level, but I understand and admire the aims and intents.
Odd, delicate, surreal, and whimsical in every way imaginable; "Mister Lonely" is certainly no classic, but the images that Korine brings to the screen are as forgettable as ever. Here, he ditches his signature low-budget technical aspects but keeps his imagination in-tact. He seeks to provide a sympathetic portrayal of celebrity impersonators, and so he does. Luna and Morton play their roles honestly - even if some of the dialogue seems just a tad silly at times - and who can resist Herzog's insightful - but slightly overlong - philosophical ramblings as a priest lost deep in the jungle regions of who knows where? This is a film of subtle, simple charms; not for everyone - not for a lot of people - but nevertheless, I'm just glad it signifies a return-to-form for Korine. With every minute spent watching the film, you can sense the recovery of the director. He may never be Mister Coherant - or Mister Mainstream - and he's still Mister Lonely, but at least he's not Mister Druggie (anymore); that I will give him right off the bat.