12 May 2008 | Klickberg
Greatly flawed, but mesmerizing and with moments of absolute genius
As a long-time fan of Harmony Korine--his films (sans script for KIDS), his photographs, his music videos, writings, music, and (let's face it) "performance art" known as his inimitable interviews over the years--I, as with so many others a part of the HK cult, have been waiting almost a decade for the return of this erstwhile enfante terrible who amazed the most important modern filmmakers alive along with the rest of us with his stirring explosion onto the independent film and art scene back when we ourselves were all but kids.
I can't say that I was necessarily disappointed with MISTER LONELY, but there are definitely as many aspects about it that I did not like as those that I enjoyed immensely. When I did my best to corral a few friends into the screening, everyone inevitably asked what the critics had said--strangely enough--and all the reviews seemed to say the same thing about the film: "a beautiful and meandering mess." Not only did that sound exactly like the kind of film I wanted to see, but it pretty much nails the film to the letter.
Unquestionably, the film is stunning in visual beauty.
Harmony has a preternatural knack for the visual form; he is in essence a photographer who thinks himself a bit better of a storyteller than he is. His stories are surely fascinating, but certainly being a raconteur of sorts is his least strong talent. His concepts are always fantastic, but his execution can become irritating and frankly gimcrack. Even in his interviews, when he goes on a tirade about talking to Orthodox Jews who are dentists and play basketball, calling him a sinner, you chuckle and can almost see the image in your head of such a scene... then you grow bored and wish he would just answer the damn question about where he got his idea for such-and-such a film, etc.
As most other reviewers on IMDb and in the press have stated, you could see this film for strictly the "nun footage" alone. Those specific ethereal scenes certainly are a true breath of fresh air, and of course Harmony also has a terrific ear for the discovery and use of the best music to go along with his dreamy "surreal realism" style.
The two largest problems for me with this one: 1) The dialogue was at time so sappy and sentimental that it made me wonder how such a contrarian critic such as Mr. K could come up with or employ such hackneyed and cloying material (especially an "epilogue" sequence of sorts involving talking eggs that is probably one of the worst scenes in all of American film history), 2) The acting could have been punched up a bit, especially with Diego Luna who had the physical style of Jackson down pat, but just couldn't pull off the voice, the "hee-hee," or an acting performance that transcended a frightened, timid child of 13 (and, yes, I did catch that this was somewhat the "point," but the whole film's ensemble seemed a bit too pedomorphic this time round... rather like the characters, dialogue, and even narrative of Bret Easton Ellis' last novel in which you almost want to grab the guy and say, "Hey, you're better than this. You're not a kid anymore. And your characters aren't kids anymore. Time to move on and evolve.")
The Chaplin character was also such a wooden villain, so despicable in every way, that I believed his development suffered the same kind of flatness one would see in a late 90's romantic-comedy.
It will be difficult for me to recommend MISTER LONELY to even my most staunch artistic cineaste friends; but, I'm personally glad I saw it, and--again--there was imagery that I will never see anywhere else.
Looking forward to his next piece.