Sometimes friends come for dinner and they bring cupcakes that look gorgeous but have an absurd amount of frosting on them. You can't eat all that frosting, you think, but you will nibble a bit and, yeah it does taste good and the pastel colors are nice and, okay, you'll have another bite and before you know it the whole thing is gone and even though it was ridiculously sweet you'd be lying if you said you didn't like that sort of thing once in a while. That is Michel Gondry's new film “Mood Indigo.”
Frosting blasts your taste buds from the opening scene, the wildest and wackiest “wake-up” montage since “Pee-wee's Big Adventure.” Romain Duris is Colin, a wealthy man with a Paris apartment built like a train that had analog gizmos and whirring doodads and a little mouse that runs around and helps makes a vivid, strobe-effect animated breakfast. A “pianococktail” device transforms music into a perfectly mixed drink. Also, Omar Sy is there as the butler/cook but is actually the lawyer/confident. Via short circuit televisions and rotary phones there are a bank of aides on-call in an Eero Saarinen-esque room tapping away on electric typewriters, working on the “script” of Colin's life. Duke Ellington's music plays.
If you can make it past the first frenetic five minutes of “Mood Indigo” you may find yourself setting in on its fast paced wavelength. It's total fantasy, so that means the characters don't need to be real. Colin declares “I want to be in love!” so he goes out to a party to find a girl. Not exactly a feminist tract, but he finds an adorable plaything in Audrey Tatou's Chloe. They go on a date which involves hovering over Paris in a plastic cloud cast away from a street carnival, but lifted by a construction crane – one that also plays vinyl 45s. The go ice skating at a rink run by giant birdpeople. They play music that changes the architectural structure of rooms.
Love explodes all over the place and Gondry uses the full force of his reserve whimsy to make it the most idiosyncratic thing you've ever seen. It's capital S stylized. Wes Anderson's movies look like grim cinema verité in comparison. But what goes up must come down, and when a shoe thrown in a little bit of anger damages a window, through that crack slips an animated snowflake. That snowflake goes into Chloe's lungs, where it creates a chill on her heart and lung (which all look like yarn, but never mind that now.) She develops an internal water lily, which can only be treated with flowers. Colin's fortune is soon depleted trying to save her (as well as maintain his lifestyle and the habits of his chums) and that's when Gondry's production design really goes into overdrive.
Decay and death creep in and everything that was bright and giddy in the first half of the film turns colorless and macabre. It is impossible to underplay the striking and remarkable look of this film. It is marvelously effective - the most rich environment Gondry has ever created. Unfortunately, the characters, despite their “bigness,” are a little hard to reach on anything other than a symbolic level. Which is not to say they aren't amusing. Colin's best pal Chick (Gad Elmaleh), who has a crippling obsession with the rock star philosopher “Jean-Sol Parte,” is a particular high point. But when the movie came to its abrupt conclusion, my reaction to this film was a hearty “yeah, so?” The instant the film ends the spell is broken.
Those who can't handle the sweet stuff will be put off from the beginning, but there is great mirth and value in giving in to the peculiar (and quietly un-chaste) fairy tale of this all. “Mood Indigo” is actually based on a very popular French novel “Froth on the Daydream.” I was not familiar with it (or its author Boris Vian) but Gondry's version comes off like a sly version of Jules Verne or William Pène du Bois. Nevertheless the film's greatest asset is is deepest fault. Despite being clever and crafty it can't break out of the curiosity shop. It's the finest diorama in there, but something to admire, linger over then move past.