The mother of in­ven­tion

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - TARA BRADY

THE YOUNG AND PRODI­GIOUS TS SPIVET ★★★ Star­ring Kyle Catlett, He­lena Bon­ham Carter, Judy Davis, Cal­lum Keith Rennie, Kylie Catlett Club, IFI, Dublin, 105 min

To­wards the end of Jean-Pierre Je­unet’s showy new pic­ture, He­lena Bon­ham Carter, play­ing the mother of the tit­u­lar pre-teen ge­nius, turns to cam­era with a heart­break­ing ex­pres­sion. It’s a shock­ing mo­ment, as un­til now no one in this orgy of whimsy has been given much op­por­tu­nity to act. Each of the film’s (mostly ex­haust­ing) char­ac­ters has, in­stead, stuck to grotes­querie.

In this spirit, Bon­ham Carter is a posh am­a­teur en­to­mol­o­gist who lives on a Mon­tana ranch with her ret­i­cent cow­boy hus­bie (Cal­lum Keith Rennie). TS (Kyle Catlett), their youngest son and the film’s nar­ra­tor, is a 10-yearold prodigy who de­signs fantab­u­lous con­trap­tions, in­clud­ing a per­pet­ual mo­tion ma­chine, an in­ven­tion which wins him a Baird Prize in sci­enc­ing.

The boy duly sets out for the Smith­so­nian to pick up his award, a jour­ney that takes him across the US heart­lands as played by Québec. On the road, TS en­coun­ters a se­ries of key­stone cops and French char­ac­ter ac­tors, all of whom speak “Gen­uine Amer­i­can” us­ing sounds with no fixed or known zip code.

As with Martin Scors­ese’s Hugo – an­other film with a child pro­tag­o­nist and pro­nounced sense of won­der – TS Spivet demon­strates that an au­teur can work marvels with 3D in a way that no stu­dio pic­ture has ever ri­valled. An­i­mated thought bub­bles and ec­cen­tric di­a­grams drift across the screen, ob­jects hur­tle out of the frame, mul­ti­ple lay­ers make up ev­ery shot.

Je­unet has priv­i­leged art de­sign over all oth­ers things in his se­ries of adult-friendly fairy tales (The City of Lost Chil­dren, Amélie, Mic­macs). The new film, in turn, gives a ter­rific im­pres­sion of what Nor­man Rock­well’s Tele­tub­by­land might have looked like.

How­ever, Day­Glo gloss can’t com­pen­sate for sloppy sto­ry­telling and yawn­ing emo­tional chasm. A sub­plot con­cern­ing the death of our young hero’s brother is in­tro­duced, for­got­ten, and rein­tro­duced, pre­sum­ably to bring emo­tional bal­last to all the pretty sur­faces and zi­p­less sig­ni­fiers. It’s a hap­haz­ard in­tru­sion rather than a tragic back­story.

My Amer­i­can mom: He­lena Bon­ham Carter brings some low-key hu­man­ity to TS Spivet

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