Writer: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant, Reif Larson (novel)
Cast: Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter, Callum Keith Rennie, Niamh Wilson, Jakob Davies, Judy Davis
Running time: 105mins
The lowdown: Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet returns to English language movies 17 years after his unhappy experience on Alien: Resurrection sent him back to France and into the arms of Amelie. The cumbersomely titled The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet feels like Amelie for kids, with a similarly quirky lead and visual spark. But, while charming, this is missing the edge of Jeunet’s most successful films. Often beautiful, particularly in the crisply shot 3D, T.S. Spivet is like a handsomely crafted automobile… that never shifts out of 2nd gear.
The full verdict: Child genius T.S. Spivet has an odd life.
His mum is Helena Bonham Carter, and if that wasn’t odd enough she’s an entomologist with a knack for short circuiting toasters.
Dad is Callum Keith Rennie, here playing a cowboy born to the wrong age, bemused with his strange family.
T.S. also has two siblings. His older sister (Wilson) hates their life in super rural Montana, while a younger brother (Davies) may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but has a prairie spirit like his dad.
The T.S. also stands for Tecumseh Sparrow.
T.S. (played with quiet intensity, fragility and warmth by Catlett) finds fascination in the most mundane minutiae of everyday life and has just won a prize from the Washington Smithsonian Institute for his perpetual motion machine, the Holy Grail of scientific endeavour.
After a tragic accident hits the family, T.S. flees on an epic road trip across the American Midwest to Chicago and then Washington to collect his prize.
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet, adapted from Reif Larson’s novel, is too snugly wrapped in whimsy for any genuine emotion to impact. Granted, the film looks stunning, with heavily colour corrected visuals drawing out saturated primary colours from the landscape and sky (and disguising the fact the movie was entirely shot in Canada).
But, subplots arrive and depart with scant development, characterisation is quirky, amusing but inconsistent, and the impression left is we’re watching a great story half told.
A weird third act puts T.S. at the mercy of Judy Davis’ venal Smithsonian exec and fails to inject drama into climactic reconciliations.
Hugo and Moonrise Kingdom did the “thinking kid’s” film a whole lot better. As did Jeunet’s own The City of Lost Children.