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PopGap #34: Mr. Nobody (2009)

PopGap #34: Mr. Nobody (2009)

Directed by Jaco Van Dormael
Written by dorrk
26 November 2017

Each of these lives is the right one. Every path is the right path.

Mr. Nobody probably deserves better than a review from me. It's a well-constructed work with impressive visual energy and an appealing cast that is completely game for realizing director Jaco Van Dormael's unique(-ish) vision. It also, however, combines four major points of my movie resistance into one insurmountable obstacle: a fractured narrative, science fiction, 1990s-and-later European quirkiness, and... well, the last one is a spoiler, but it can be a deal-breaker even for movies that I have otherwise enjoyed, and, as impressive as Mr. Nobody is in many ways, I found watching it to be, mostly, a chore.

Jared Leto stars as multiple instances of the same person, at different ages and on different, sometimes parallel, paths in his life. As children, he deals with discovering that the idyllic veneer of his homelife is a false front for dysfunction and tragedy; as teens, he pursues girls who promise as much potential for risk as they do romance; as adults, he deals almost exclusively with heartbreak; as an elderly man… the less said about this futuristic component of the movie the better — it could not have been more exactingly engineered to annoy me.

Leto leads a solid cast including Rhys Ifans, Diane Kruger, Sarah Polley and Juno Temple, all of whom do considerable work to keep Dormael's intentionally fractured, multi-layered and self-referential narrative comprehensible. Generally, I don't favor movies that use artificially over-complicated narrative structures that turn simple ideas into puzzles; but Dormael does it about as well as possible, and rather than being an end unto itself, Mr. Nobody's complex storytelling serves a larger goal — it just so happens to be one that I not only reject almost categorically but found particularly ludicrous in this instance. While sci-fi in and of itself is not a problem for me, and I count a few movies from that genre among my favorites, it also does not earn a movie any goodwill by default. Fortunately, the presence of sci-fi in Mr. Nobody is mostly conceptual, giving it a light footprint for a majority of the film; however, the scenes in which sci-fi is allowed to dominate are absurdly overproduced and full of maddening tropes. That Dormael mixes sci-fi with archly bittersweet and aggressively quirky European Romantic Fantasy of the type that makes my skin crawl in the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet is exponentially exasperating. For audiences who do find that style appealing, this may be a masterpiece; for me, it had the opposite effect, although I did not find it as unstomachably saccharine in Mr. Nobody as I did in, say, Amelie.

Put bluntly, Mr. Nobody is not for me, but if even I can appreciate, in some small part, the creative effort and talent that went into it, it's probably pretty good by most other standards, just not the best standard.

Mr. Nobody was brought to the Potluck Film Fest by Jandy Hardesty. She ranks it on her Flickchart at #117 / 3979 (97%), where it's her 8th favorite from Flickchart's "Mindbender" genre out of 63. It ranked on my Flickchart at #2713 (32%), making it #44 out of the 63 "Mindbending" movies on my chart.

PopGap #34: Mr. Nobody (2009)

Trailer for Mr. Nobody (2009)