Mood Indigo, the latest bit of whimsical whatever from Michel Gondry, isn’t a film. It’s a fucking endurance test. It stretches viewers to the furthest reaches of the terms “twee” and “quirky” until they snap. It’s a film that doesn’t need to be grounded in reality to succeed, but even in its own anarchic goodheartedness it feels positively smothering. It’s certainly the work of Gondry, but once and for all his love of stunning visuals can no longer cover up for the fact that he isn’t a filmmaker. He’s certainly an artist, but the art he’s making isn’t very focused and not even all that good.
A supposedly grand and epic romance, this long shelved curiosity tells the saga of Colin (Romain Duris) and Chloe (Audrey Tautou), two doomed lovers. An independently wealthy inventor of variously uselss doodads, dohickeys, and whatchamacalits, Colin feels left out that he’s the only person in his circle of precisely two friends to not have love in his life. At a party where everyone’s legs can bend inhumanly to perform dances that look like absolute shit he meets Chloe, the most stereotypically quirky, life loving female ever. They have a courtship where they get into a fucking cloud car and get carted across the city skyline where she sing songs Colin’s name over and over again. They bond over Duke Ellington. They literally get involved in a race to be the only couple married on a certain day and look like assholes in the process. Then it turns out she’s sick with the whimsical ailment of having a water lily growing out of one of her lungs, she needs to eat living ball bearings to treat it, and Colin nearly goes broke trying to save her life.
And it is all so fucking exhausting. Terry Gilliam would give pause to this level of visual and aural chicanery. It looks like a Michel Gondry film, sure, but it also plays like someone gave Zack Braff a billion dollars and got him rolling on ecstasy. No, it’s worse than even that. It’s like if Tom Shadyac had two billion dollars and a kilo of cocaine. If there isn’t something quirky or off-the-wall going on within the frame (stop motion animated food, a guy running around in a rat suit playing a rat, guns that grow out of the ground with human surrogates) then you better be sure that someone is spouting off some scatter-brained claptrap about how wonderful life can be! That is, until the last couple of minutes when Gondry decides to get way to serious and makes me hate the entire enterprise more than I did from the start.
It’s so off balance the that cast has to resort to ceaseless mugging every step of the way. Duris has charm, but little actual wit thanks to the stifling job Gondry has saddled him with. Tautou should have been smarter to accept a role like this, but apparently not as its one of the most sexist things I’ve seen in recent years: a woman of positively no agency, no drive, and no personality of her own other than to just be jazz-handingly quirky and irreverent. Also incredibly wasted are Gad Elmaleh as Colin’s weasly best friend and Omar Sy as Colin’s servant and cook. They are just there for the scenery to play off of them, and not the other way around.
Since the love story isn’t original or even all that well done within its already done to death narrative framework, Gondry overcompensates with exactly the kind of showboating that he should be getting away from and what has sunk every one of his film projects except for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That’s a film that’s not only the exact opposite of this in every way, but an example of a story that could benefit from Gondry’s admittedly gorgeous touches. Instead, working from his own story and left to his own devices, the results are akin to giving a man a shovel and telling him to dig his own grave. The audience is left to watch as he just keeps digging to the centre of the Earth aimlessly and ceaselessly.
But aside from feeling like I was trapped inside the worst funhouse imaginable, there were two things that I chuckled at when I wasn’t feeling positively overwhelmed with this vision from the Michael Bay of the arthouse set. I chuckled when I saw someone in a bird mask instructing ice skaters over a PA. I also chuckled when the friends sat down to cut a cake and inside of it was a bottle of perfume that Elmaleh’s character proceeds to drink. “Cake chased with poison,” I thought. What a perfect metaphor for this trash.