Classic Film Review: Mister Lonely

Full Title: Mister Lonely
Director: Harmony Korine
Year: 2007
Comments:”I just wanted to make a sequel to Caddy Shack”(1980). That was the explanation Harmony “Harmful” Korine offered David Letterman and his audience for why he wrote the screenplay for the controversial film Kids (1995). Anyone who has seen Kids knows that clearly Korine was pulling a fast one on the Late Show viewers. Kids follows twenty-four hours in the lives of a few teenagers in New York City as they have unprotected sex, consume copious amounts of alcohol and drugs, and commit various acts of anti-social behavior. Suffice to say both films share the common trait of having people in them, and that is about it. His next film Gummo (1997) was even more notorious. Gummo was an altogether new kind of film with images and sounds coming from everywhere. The movie has no real linear plot, but rather serves as a collection of highly impressionable and memorable scenes/vignettes. What we see and hear is almost always unsettling and more often than not downright vile. Following Gummo, Korine made one more full length feature film, Julien Donkey Boy (1999) before falling into a nasty drug habit and overall feeling of disenchantment. Eight years later, Korine bounces back with his biggest film yet, Mister Lonely (2007). With this work he pulls back a little bit and makes somewhat of a more conventional film. This time there is a narrative, in the traditional sense of the word, and more professional actors participate. Do not worry though, Korine still maintains his peculiar aesthetic as the story follows the life of a Michael Jackson look-alike (Diego Luna) living in Paris. One day the celebrity impersonator meets a fellow impersonator in the form of Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton), who invites him to live with her and other celebrity impersonators at a commune in the hills, where everything seems to be perfect.
I would wager that for Harmony Korine, making Mister Lonely is akin to a bizarre, obscure band finally making that album that is more commercially viable and not as strange, but still retains its weirdness. The album may hook in some new fans, it may push away long time devotees, but overall not much changes because the band is still too bizarre for most mainstream fans. Well, this sums up what ML does for Korine. Unlike his previous works, ML does not rely on the shock factor, but instead takes a more sensitive path, conveying an extreme care for its characters. Overall, the film displays themes related to isolation, self-hatred, withdrawal from reality, search for one’s dreams and one’s purpose in life, America’s obsession with fame and Hollywood, and ultimately the desire to be someone else. These issues are affectionately communicated to the audience, in stark contrast from the brutal, sometimes offensive nature of his previous films. There is far less ambiguity here and as a big fan of Korine, I cannot say this is a positive attribute. What I precisely loved about films like Gummo was the chaotic, seemingly message-less tone of the movie. In other words, one creates their own message, whatever is presented is there, but everyone is free to interpret their own meaning. This true of ML, but the film has far too much of a linear story for this to have the same effect. It feels as if Korine is attempting to make a more mainstream film and this is somewhat obvious because of the larger budget and so forth.
The look of the film is a significant departure from his previous works. The cinematography is mostly conventional and does not stand out as anything different, which is not necessarily a bad thing and perhaps will appeal to viewers that detest Korine’s usual style. His camerawork is as top notch as ever and certainly one of the strengths of the film. There are dazzling shots of nuns flying in the air and riding bicycles through the clouds. These shots offer strong imagery, but not nearly as evocative or as memorable as in the past.
Overall, this is a really good film with fascinating characters, excellent shot selection, and incredible use of music. The film has more strengths than weaknesses, but it is surely not without its share of flaws. It lacks cohesion and not in the good old Harmful sense for you fans out there. We have a (comparatively) normal structured film with a clear narrative, so when some randomness is tossed in, it does not quite fit, at least for my taste. In his previous movies, the scenes were filled to the brim with randomness to the point that it would be pointless for me to bring up cohesion as a flaw. Lastly, I will say I mostly found myself invested in the story and the characters, but at times I felt like it dragged on or appeared aimless, so for most viewers there is a good chance this will be far too vapid. With that being said, I recommend this to fans and non fans alike and I dare everyone to challenge themselves with a film they may otherwise overlook.

Grade: B

The background information in this review was taken from one of my past posts “Harmful For All Ages.”

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