It's been years since Harmony Korine burst upon the scene with Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy, two expressionistic collages that straddled the line between prankster cinema and poetry. What was refreshing about those films was that there was almost nothing else like them out there, and Mister Lonely starts out in a similarly bold, almost vaudevillian style, announcing itself as a Korine film the moment you see a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) strutting his stuff on the streets of Paris. At a retirement home, entertaining the elderly as they croak along to his enthusiastic singing, he meets his match in a fetching Marilyn Monroe imitator (Samantha Morton). Their dialogue scenes seem like it was written using a child's crayon, which perhaps accounts for why the romance feels so pure. The unrelated subplot about skydiving nuns and a padre (Werner Herzog) trying to fly them to Rome to have a drink with the Pope contains vivid images (how can you go wrong with skydiving nuns?), but the main narrative of Monroe and Jackson traveling to a Scottish isle to join a talent show featuring other impersonators feels like a parade of skits. The pleasure of Korine's films is in their free-form narrative style, but once we're on the island, Mister Lonely gets stuck and begins to feel repetitive. While the film falls short in comparison to his other films, Korine remains one of the most innovative and surprising new voices in American cinema. As a champion for the beautiful and the strange, I'll take bottom-shelf Korine over just about anything else currently playing in theaters.
Mister Lonely @ the Tribeca Film Festival
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.