Dir: Harmony Korine. UK/Fr/Ire/USA. 2006. 112 mins
It's a playful, romantic Harmony Kormine who emerges for inspection with Mister Lonely, his first film as a director since Julien Donkey Boy in 1999.
The story of a lonely Michael Jackson impersonator who finds a fleeting tenderness with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator seems to bring out the lighter side of the erstwhile enfant terrible and possesses reserves of offbeat, goofball charm. Charm can only take you so far, however, and by the halfway point it becomes obvious that the film has little else to offer. The mixture of the eccentric and the grotesque grows increasingly tiresome. An acquired taste that may acquire a cult following, it has little to tempt a mainstream audience and commercial prospects are severely limited.
A love story that also serves as a reflection on identity, blind faith and individuality, Mister Lonely takes the inspiration for its title from the Bobby Vinton song. Diego Luna stars as a Michael Jackson impersonator plying his trade in Paris. One performance at an old folk's home allows him to meet blousy Marilyn impersonator Samantha Morton. She invites him to a Scottish castle where a collection of celebrity impersonators have established a sympathetic commune of like-minded souls. Their numbers include The Pope (James Fox), Marilyn's husband Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant) and their daughter Shirley Temple (Esme Creed-Miles). It becomes a kind of paradise for Jackson, who finally feels at home in a group who take comfort from living their lives through the identity of someone else.
The events in Scotland are interrupted at a couple of points to visit a parallel story in the jungles of Panama where Father Umbrillo (Werner Herzog) ultimately persuades a group of nuns to test their faith by jumping from a plane without wearing parachutes. Faith and community seem to be the most literal links between the two plot elements although they hardly appear a natural fit on screen. Perhaps Korine just wanted to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.
Mister Lonely does provide some amusing moments that range from skydiving nuns to Luna performing Michal Jackson's trademark moon walk, whoops and hip thrusts as a busker in the heart of Paris. It does not lack humour but is so idiosyncratic that it makes it almost impossible for an audience to take the film seriously when it moves to more dramatic ground, namely the tensions that develop between Marilyn and Charlie Chaplin over the presence of Michael Jackson in their midst. Tragedies towards the end of the film seem to underline the notion that any sense of love or happiness in the world can only be fleeting.
Mister Lonely does show Korine's development as a filmmaker, with the lighter tone of the early sections translating into a production favouring lush colours, clear images and sharp editing which means a film that is as aesthetically appealing as it is dramatically wayward.
Production companies/backers ~
Agnes B Productions
Recorded Picture Company
Arte France Cinema
The Sun City Girls