Dir: Michel Gondry. US. 2004. 108mins
Scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation) and director Michel Gondry go a long way in their new film toward rehabilitating themselves after their disastrous previous collaboration, Human Nature, but the conspicuously brilliant Kaufman, especially, still seems too smart for his own good.
The concept behind Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (a title from Alexander Pope, whose vaunting ambition immediately sends its own mixed signals) - a man trying to save his memory from some high-tech back-alley operators he has hired to erase it - is a promising one. The cast that has been assembled (Carrey, Winslet, Wood, Wilkinson and Dunst) is also impressive.
But the actual script that attempts to put these two formidable elements together is so overwrought and cerebral that most audiences will be utterly lost just trying to figure out what's going on. Needless to say, this does not bode well for the possibility of emotional involvement in the characters' lives which, after all, is a staple of the romantic comedy genre that audiences have come to expect.
Taking an unauthorised day off work, Joel (Carrey) heads out to the tip of Long Island, where he apparently meets Clementine (Winslet) for the first time and they fall in love.
Later, the film reveals that they are in fact meeting for a second time. After their first affair, Clementine, having tired of Joel, had gone to a back-alley shop run by Dr Mierzwiak (Wilkinson) that specialises in erasing memories.
Upon his discovery of her betrayal, Joel had bitterly consented to having his own memory of Clementine removed by Dr. Mierzwiak's technicians, played by Ruffalo and Wood. Unfortunately, they're more interested in partying with the doctor's assistant (Dunst), and the memory erasure is only partially successful.
During the procedure, Joel realises he does not want his thoughts of Clementine erased after all. He and his emotional image of Clementine then fight in his subconscious to reclaim themselves from the insatiable maws of the doctor's computers.
There is some evidence that Kaufman is attempting, in a manner similar to Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, to deconstruct the romantic comedy genre here, but his tale is too clotted for that to work. The sub-plot concerning the doctor and his assistant, apparently meant as counterpoint, is embarrassingly simple compared to the central plot and thus isn't very convincing.
The acting, on the other hand, is uniformly excellent, especially Winslet, who is completely charming as the free-spirited American girl. Carrey gets to show once again that he can do straight stuff, but he's also allowed a couple of great comic moments when he becomes a four-year-old hiding under his Mom's kitchen table.
Gondry's cinematic tricks are imaginative and sometimes work brilliantly (when people disappear one after the other from a crowded train station as Joel's memory is being wiped out) and sometimes not so brilliantly (when it rains on Joel in his bedroom, owing to the super-imposition of a childhood memory on the present).
There is every evidence that had Kaufman seen fit to rein in his hyperactive intelligence, an excellent film could have resulted. But even if the script had been more accessible, it's doubtful whether its ultra-high concept will connect with general audiences.
Prod cos: Anonymous Content, This is That Productions
US dist: Focus Features
Int'l sales: Focus Features
Exec prods: David Bushell, Charlie Kaufman, Glenn Williamson, Georges Bermann
Prods: Steve Golin, Anthony Bregman
Scr: Charlie Kaufman
Cine: Ellen Kuras
Ed: Valdiis Oskarsdottir
Prod des: Dan Leigh
Music: Jon Brion
Main cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson