Film Review: Mood Indigo

An excessively whimsical romance that’s undone by cartoonish performances and direction by Michel Gondry that practically bludgeons viewers via cutesy formal trickery.

Anything might happen–and yet nothing actually does–in Mood Indigo, a free-form doodle from director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind) that may be the pinnacle of pretentious twee whimsy. In fact, the film itself should have been called Pretentious Twee Whimsy, so pronounced are those qualities throughout this insufferable adaptation of Boris Vian’s novel. Without a script of any substance, and with lead performances that are defined by their grating cartoonishness, Gondry treats his latest as an excuse to partake in as much random creative tomfoolery as he likes, leading to a bevy of imaginative sights tailor-made for trailers aiming to lure viewers into theatres. Do not be fooled. Though routinely inventive from a purely objective point of view, Gondry’s flights of fancy so are so incessantly and aggressively thrust into the frame, and without any significant connection to his narrative, that the entire affair plays like an exhibition designed to prove that wholesale lack of inhibition is often an artist’s worst ally.

Mood Indigo barely boasts a story, but what there is of one concerns wealthy layabout Colin (Romain Duris), who spends his days in a sunshiny house full of strange gadgets and objects (a doorbell that acts like a skittering insect, a spice rack fashioned from a bike tire) alongside his lawyer/assistant Nicolas (Omar Sy) and a silent mouse played by a man in a costume. There are kitchen tables on roller skates and a chef on the TV who can reach into the real world, but this central location is a drab wannabe-cute wonderland that comes across as “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” minus the charm. Colin often hangs out with a friend, Chick (Gad Elmaleh), who’s obsessed with a pretentious philosopher whose books Chick consumes in narcotics form–a clever idea that, like the film’s every bit of inspiration, gets lost amidst Gondry’s endless visual and production-design clutter. From rear-projection, miniatures, stop-motion, claymation, fast-forward, strange prosthetic body parts, and countless more, the look-at-me special effects in Mood Indigo are so rampant that the overarching impact is like being assaulted by an overeager student desperate to impress.

After much frittering about, including a dance lesson in which Colin’s and Nicolas’ legs become abnormally long, Colin meets Chloe (Audrey Tautou) and–thanks to their shared love of Duke Ellington, as well as a ride around Paris in a cloud-shaped lift supported by a crane–they fall in love. Their amour leads to a whirlwind marriage ceremony featuring cart racing, some ho-hum bliss, and then tragedy (cue the black-and-white cinematography!) once it’s discovered that Chloe has developed a fatal water lily on her heart that can only be destroyed by surrounding her chest with flowers. Suitably nauseated yet? Mood Indigo goes on and on in this preciously quirky way for an interminable 131 minutes, indulging in all manner of nonsense involving rainbows, organically grown weapons, pianos that make alcoholic beverages, an office full of people writing Colin’s story on typewriters that move down counters on rails, and weirdoes acting weird for weirdness’ sake. Gondry clearly finds all this romantic gibberish delightful, and even appears briefly as Chloe’s doctor, giving him the opportunity to state, “Beauty isn’t everything.” If only the superficial, self-satisfied Mood Indigo–a film that cares about nothing other than its own well-manicured aesthetics–truly believed it.

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