Harmony Korine - he strips the audience into camps that get ravenous at each other. I remember being in film school and knowing people who *loved* Gummo, loved it to death (one girl even did an homage picture of herself like the one boy with his face turns to the side in profile), and would defend it with... I don't know what logic, that (in good argument) that Korine had a vision, that he had a great eye at such a young age (21 or 22) at the outcasts of the world. Fine. Then on the other camp, people *hated* the work of him, couldn't stand it, couldn't get it. Understandable as well: Gummo is, I should add, a freak-show, Jerry Springer shot with the camera of Sven Nykvist on holiday. As for Julien Donkey Boy, well, that's a whole other story.
The reason perhaps that I have a whole paragraph about Korine's reputation is that Mister Lonely, his latest film, is also his first in over eight years. Whatever it was that spurred him and his brother Avi to get to work on this after such a hiatus from the director's chair is beyond me, but it is admittedly nothing else if not fascinating - both in how it works wonders and charms and, frankly, how it can bore and act like it's God's gift to the lives of celebrity impersonators. It's the kind of film where things happen but they kind of don't at the same time; it has Michael Jackson (Diego Luna) and Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton) meet in Paris, Monroe takes Michael to a Scottish castle where a family of celebrity impersonators (i.e. Chaplin, Stooges, Buckwheat, the Pope, the Queen) all are gathered to do... what? Well, put on a show for the locals, perhaps, even if they don't show up much, at all.
And in the meantime, Werner Herzog - yes, Werner Herzog, stay tuned - is in the picture as a Latin American priest who has a plane full of nuns dropping rice on villagers and then, shock of shocks, one of the nun falls out of the plane and can fly. This may be, for me, one of the only times I can remember when Herzog has been not used to his full potential on screen. Perhaps there's a symbolic/Christian/belief connection that I did not get at all, but the rhythm of film-making that Korine had suddenly would shift gears every so often to this unrelated-to-the-celebrity-people to Herzog and the nuns (at one point Herzog, with big goggle/glasses on, rambles on camera about this or that, which usually is enormously gratifying but here is not), and it's as if we're plopped into one of Herzog's docu-fiction films filled with ecstatic truth. This would be fine - if there was *more* of this throughout the film, which there isn't (I'd say %10 of the running time has Herzog and/or flying nuns), or if they had been used for a whole other project and Korine had focused on just the family of celebrities.
And yet, it's hard for me not to recommend the picture on some gut-level. There is invention here, and daring, and some kind of intuition with a personal aesthetic that makes Mister Lonely come alive in some unpredictable ways. But on the flip-side to Korine's inspirational coin are some hard truths to face: he finds all of this so self-important, so much like we're seeing something that we *must* find amazing and deep that he gets ahead of his own material. Some scenes end up rambling, others like Marilyn Monroe dancing slowly to herself and then it fading to black and the words "Thriller" streaming across the scene are beautiful and totally perplexing and pretentious in one fell swoop. There's also something of an easy out with the tragic part after the big performance is given (I wont mention it as it is a good spoiler), and it too leads to a conclusion that has some meaning but not enough. Some of this is very funny (hard not to laugh at cussing Abe Lincoln or smelly Pope), some of it weird in a good way... and some of it may make you wonder why you rented it in the first place.
Again, as with Gummo, Mister Lonely will divide it's audience (frankly, I'm sort of divided among my own thoughts), but if you need that challenge of a director saying "this is what celebrity, the idea of being someone or doing something you care about that has f***-all to do with the rest of 'ordinary' humanity", or just some remarkable cinematography with art-house tattooed on its eyelids, check it out. If it's a disappointment, it was worth a shot. And if it's the best movie of the year, well, more power to you.