Directed by Harmony Korine. Starring Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, Denis Lavant, Werner Herzog, James Fox, Anita Pallenberg, Richard Strange, Melita Morgan, Rachel Korine, Jason Pennycooke, Esme Creed-Miles, Leos Carax. (2008, NR, 112 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 6, 2008
Long ago we ceased looking for linearity and popular appeal in Korine's movies, and Mister Lonely does not disappoint in that regard. Oddly, however, this film may be Korine's most accessible as a director, featuring characters, images, and situations that are stirring and unforgettable – even if they don't add up to a complete narrative or visual whole. The filmmaker has always been attracted to wounded characters who exist on the peripheries of their social group – the dangerously aimless teens of Kids (for which he wrote the script only), the alienated youth of Gummo, the abused and schizophrenic son of julien donkey-boy, and the scandalous skate punks of the largely unreleased Ken Park (another film that he only scripted). In Mister Lonely, Korine shifts his focus from teens to adults, but still these characters are individuals whose psychological growth has been stunted. Most of Mister Lonely's characters are celebrity impersonators who live out their dreams in a 24/7 state of perpetual make-believe in a commune housed in a castle in the Scottish Highlands. The Michael Jackson look-alike (Luna) meets Marilyn Monroe (Morton) while performing his act in a nursing home in Paris. Marilyn, who is married to Charlie Chaplin (Lavant), with whom she has a daughter, Shirley Temple (Creed-Miles), invites Michael to come live in the commune with Abe Lincoln (Strange), Madonna (Morgan), Sammy Davis Jr. (Pennycooke), and the rest. The film goes from poignant to comic and back again as Korine veers between showing us the fragility of these characters' personal identities and the absurdity of things like images of the Pope and the Queen in bed together (Fox and Pallenberg, who were last seen together in a movie in 1970's Performance) or the Three Stooges and Abe Lincoln tending the sheep while in costume and yellow, knee-high rubber boots. The sad pall that hovers over much of the imagery is set during the film's long opening take of Michael steering his bike through the streets of Paris with a bobbling Bubbles bringing up the rear as Bobby Vinton's hit tune "Mr. Lonely" plays. Other music is by Jason Spaceman and the Sun City Girls. Intercut with this story is a seemingly unrelated story about nuns in Latin America who skydive (in full habits) without parachutes – sailing safely to earth on nothing but a wing and a prayer. Add in frequent Korine collaborator Herzog as the priest who eggs on the nuns, and I promise the result will remain indelibly fixed in your head. What does it all mean? I'm not sure. But ye of little faith – in either God's abiding power or one's own self-image – seem destined to come crashing down.