Wow, this is not what I was expecting out of a biopic on Nina Simone. Okay, now, I'm not even gonna jokingly pull that "Oh wait, my mistake" bull, because that was a super huge stretch, because a pretty big dead giveaway that this is not about Nina Simone is the fact that the titular name is really hip-hop stylized, and Simone came along way before hip-hop hit the scene and effectively killed the quality black music industry and, by extension, the general music industry on its feet. Of course, even if Simone's era was that of hip-hop, she still wouldn't have a stage name that hip-hop (Granted, Nina Simone was actually a stage name, but at least it sounded real), because she was never really all that black. Granted, she was a deep-voiced jazz, blues, folk, R&B and gospel singer from North Carolina who was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, but she ended up living in France, and what kind of southern black person do you know who wants to live in France? It's actually more far-fetched than this film, and this film gets to be pretty far-fetched, though, really, I don't know what the critics were expecting, because this is directed, produced and written by a guy whose breakout writing work dealt with some guy who goes his entire life not knowing that he's part of an all-day-every-day reality show that never seemed to have any glaring production faults in its 30 years of activity on a budget that would undoubtedly be astronomical beyond belief, so I wouldn't go in expect a huge amount of subtlty. Of course, Andrew Niccol's entire career seems to be centered around satire, which is almost by definition subtle, so still expect some subtlty, though not too much, especially from this, one of Niccol's less buyable projects. Well, it still makes for a pretty enjoyable film, though hardly a spotless one, with the lack of subtlty in its satire being just one of its missteps.
I haven't seen too much of Andrew Niccol's work, but based on what I have seen, he seems to be a very talented writer, though still quite flawed, with a common fault I'm noticing in his work being some lapses in believability, and while this film isn't as far-fetched as I jokingly implied earlier, it still falls into those lapses in total believability a tad too often, with the film's whole central idea going riddled with holes and exaggerations that leave it far-fetched to the point of having your investment, not so much crushed, but decidedly shaken. Still, this film's concept is no more exaggerated than, well, some guy who goes his entire life not knowing that he's part of an all-day-every-day reality show that never seemed to have any glaring production faults in its 30 years of activity on a budget that would undoubtedly be astronomical beyond belief, and the concept is almost just as original, yet where Peter Weir embraced the originality of "The Truman Show" in his direction to create a film so wildly inventive that it drowns out the unbelievability, Niccol, as director, emphasizes the not so original aspects in this film's script in an overly cheesy manner, leaving it to go riddled with some corny cliches that drown out the should-be prevalent originality of the film. The conventions' drowning out the originality certainly taints the satirical effectiveness, something that this film can't afford to have tainted. Sure, the satire, as I'll get into later, still hits to a certain degree, but the point is that it doesn't quite bite (Ha-ha, I rhymed) as deeply as it should, and I think that the primary reason why might not so much be because Niccol has written such a spotty script, but because Niccol's not quite as good of a director as he is a writer. Now, I'm not saying that Niccol isn't that good of a director, it's just that he is a very good writer, through all of his missteps, so much so that he's constructed a concept that goes over his own head, leaving him to pump out some cheesiness and conventions that overemphasize his satire, and with not enough subtlety to drown that out, the final result comes out as a promising and wildly inventive concept that just doesn't bite as deeply as it should as both satire and an original vision. The concept is a promising one, but the final product, however, is rendered too faulty to not be rather underwhelming, as Niccol is on too very different levels as a director and writer. However, again, it's not like he's a bad director, because what he does get right in this film, he really delivers on, and while that's not quite enough for the film to fulfill its high promise, it's certainly enough for the film to come out hitting more than missing, particularly when it comes to style.
Edward Lachman delivers on utterly handsome cinematography, emphasizing the environment with a neatly broad scope, which gives you a very nice view at all of the things for Lachman to colorfully pronounce in a very attractive, occasionally even stunning fashion. The film has a very lively look to it, and Andrew Niccol is faithful to that, both as writer and director, because although he doesn't handle his work as well as a better director would have, this is still his work, so of course there is inspiration in script translation (Rhyme), and that is palpable, as he drenches the film in an intense charm to reflect its livliness and give it consistent entertainment value, as well as quite a few comedic points that really do hit your funny bone. That, alone, could have made this a genuinely good, deeply rewarding film, were it not so tainted by potential-squandering unsubtleties and originality-destroying cliches, yet the fact of the matter is that the film has points where it really delivers on some promises, with one of the promises being eventually delivered upon being, well, some of the satire. True, more often than not, the satire, which is so essential to this film's impact, falls flat, being held back by the lack of compensation, yet there are occasions, here and there, in which the satire cuts through, maybe not too deeply, but enough to where you will be walking away genuinely pondering on what Niccol is trying to say about celebrity publicity and the prominence of overbearing filmmaking technology. The film is consistently enjoyable and charming, but during those occasions in which it does bleed through, it's almost golden, yet Niccol isn't the only one to sell you on his concepts on those occasions, as his performers, both tangible and virtual (Niccol's got a pretty hot wife, looking as "meh" as he does; maybe he really did digitize her), a buyable in their roles, even the roles themselves aren't written or directed in a terribly buyable fashion. Al Pacino, in particular, is sparklingly charismatic as the very arty, kind of sleazy visionary of a director, with a controversial concept he's got to keep under wraps from the public... for some reason. It's a central role written with enough holes (Wow, that's a slant, I'm on a rhyme streak) to help in making the general storyline so far-fetched, yet whether you buy into the Viktor Taransky character or not, Al Pacino makes our leading a memorable and charming one, standing as one of the many strengths that may not be enough to pull this film to genuinely good, but is more than enough to make it a thoroughly entertaining, rather memorable watch.
To wrap things up, Andrew Niccol writes a flawed, but wildly original and potentially piercing concept, and he, as director, doesn't quite fit the bill, overemphasizing the unoriginal aspects to create corny cliches, thus landing a blow to the film's subtlety and leaving the unbelievability of the story to be brought more to attention, which of course leaves the film's satire and messages to unfortunately miss more than hit, yet there are still occasions in which Niccol does, in fact, bite with his rather provocative satire, and getting to the point is hardly a difficult task, as the film keeps you engaged by thorough entertainment value and static charm, made all the more intense by Edward Lachman's lively cinematography and a slew of surprisingly relatively grounded performances, with Al Pacino particularly stepping up and leading with sparkling, memorable charisma that helps in ultimately making "S1m0ne" an unfortunately somewhat underwhelming, yet still thoroughly enjoyable and occasionally affecting satirical portrait on the public's obession with celebrity and how much celebrity is affected by technology.
2.5/5 - Fair