MIFF Review: The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivet

Blogged by: Review by Filmme Fatales contributor Wendy Syfret. 13 Aug 2014 View comments
‘The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivet’ is the second ever English language film made by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the director of ‘Amélie’, ‘A Very Long Engagement’ and ‘The City Of Lost Children’. Unlike 'Alien Resurrection' - the first film he made outside his native France - this family film shares many glowing traits with its predecessors: it’s intensely beautiful, carries a large dose of whimsy, and each frame is so perfect it could be a post card.
 
The film follows a gifted, young boy – the titular T.S Spivet – who lives on a Montana ranch with his family until he decides to journey across the country to claim a prestigious scientific prize he won under a false identity.



The relationships around the edges of this story make it worth watching. The role of T.S's sister could easily have been left as a brat; but rather, in her handful of scenes, you really, really feel for a teenager stuck in the middle of all this. She also serves as a counter to the preciousness of T.S: where he worships imagination, she fawns for Miss America. The slice of reality is perfectly served. Her presence also acts as a bit of palate cleanser; when things begin to get too sweet, she rolls her eyes and it makes you realise that Jeunet is far more self-aware than you gave him credit for.
 
But it’s a luminous Helena Bonham Carter, so tender as a lost matriarch, who is the hero of the film. The quiet love story between she and her cowboy husband holds its own beside that of Amelie and Nino. Without being showy it’s the loveliest representation of an adult relationship I’ve seen in a while.



At the centre of the movie is a death, and the way it pulls at emotions is masterly. It’s hard to show grief without being heavy handed, and I feel that someone who loves emotions as much as Jeunet does deserves extra praise for his light touch. This movie is obviously fanciful, but the death on which the story turns feels unsettlingly real. You ache for each character as they try and work their way through it. Those moments aren’t loud statements but are rather pointedly familiar: siblings who love but don’t like each other, adults who experience desire but not passion.
 
In 'The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivet', Jeunet makes the same mistake Wes Anderson made with Moonrise Kingdom: it’s too much of too many good things. It overflows with whimsy, life lessons, quotes made for notebooks, and knowing glances. He reaches for lofty philosophical heights, exploring the interconnection between science and philosophy, while sometimes overshadowing what makes this, and all his movies, so loveable: relationships. 
 

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