Early into Mood Indigo, the latest from writer/director Michel Gondry, I felt a unique, gnawing kind of dread. The film had barely gotten past the opening credits, and already Gondry was dispatching one kooky special effect after another, for seemingly no purpose other than to be cute. I thought, “Jesus, fuck me, the entire movie is probably full of this bullshit.” I was right. Mood Indigo is Gondry when he’s off the rails. He’s so in love with his fanciful style that he utterly ignores plot, character, and chemistry between his actors. It is aggressively twee, more so than any film released by Wes Anderson, to the point that it’s insufferable. The film is not a love story; it is an endurance test.
The film starts like a French riff on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Instead of a talking chair or a sassy robot, our bespoke hero Colin (Romain Duris) shows off his latest invention, a piano that creates custom cocktails when it’s played. There are other weird flourishes in his house: there are retro looking TVs where chefs break the fourth wall, and there’s miniature man in a mouse suit who tends to the garden (you cannot make this up). Then there is Colin’s loyal manservant named Nicolas (Omar Sy), who serves as a regrettable Other in one “adorable” outing after another. Everyone is always running or moving quickly, so we get exhausted before they do.
Colin has only one personality trait: he’s lovelorn, the sort of sad sack who whines when his buddy Chick (Gad Elmaleh) announces he has a new girlfriend. Chick suggests Colin join him for a party, and there he meets Chloe (Audrey Tautou, who must be sick of these roles). They develop a relationship based on mutual lunacy, not romance or even eroticism. After their wedding night, Chloe gets sick because a water lily grows into her lung, so the doctor prescribes seeds that grow from inside her chest activity (for some reason). Gondry attempts to substitute cheeky fun for melancholy without any emotional investment, which means there’s a long, tedious section where we wait for Chloe to die.
Michel Gondry can be a gifted director, but he needs to be reined in by a strong screenplay. Like Spike Jonze, Gondry’s best films are the ones written by Charlie Kaufman. The effects in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless are like those in Mood Indigo, except Kaufman crafted a premise that’s emotionally affecting and grounded in reality. Mood Indigo tries too damn hard, as it’s chock full of fantasy sequences that add nothing to the relationship between Colin and Chloe. When they leave the wedding alter, for example, they’re suddenly underwater. There’s a protracted dance sequence where all the characters have cartoonish, exaggerated legs. The DJ of an ice rink has a giant paper Mache bird head. With virtually special effect, I would ask myself, “WHY?” with an increasing sense of despair. In this film, Gondry proves he is the Michael Bay of excessive whimsy.
There is a lot that could have saved Mood Indigo, but Gondry is having too much fun to entertain his audience. His actors, all of whom are maybe good sports, look unhappy here with wooden smiles, as if they’re going through the motions of indulging the director’s fantasy. The movie is an adaptation of a novel by Boris Vian, though I suspect the similarities are superficial at best (Vian worked during the Jazz Age, for example, and Colin loves Duke Ellington). There is zero indication Gondry cares about the source material: like The Science of Sleep, another would-be romance about a man-child, Gondry’s obsessions suggest he’s stuck with the imagination of an excitable young boy. Women seem to terrify Colin and Gondry by extension; Mood Indigo has the least sexy love scene I can remember. It is shot and directed like a ten year old’s fantasy of sex, one who knows more mythology than sex-ed.
There is only one interesting thing about Mood Indigo, and that’s its cinematography. It starts with vibrant hues, then drains of light and color as Chloe gets sick. It’s a visual metaphor for her health and Colin’s broken heart, which would be moving if there was any emotional truth or hint of insight about human nature. Instead, Mood Indigo is a feature-length music video, with all the depth and insight that suggests. A colossal misstep in every conceivable way, this film should be spurned by Gondry fans until he’s shamed into never writing his own screenplays again. Mood Indigo is so goddamn awful that Gondry insults us by thinking we’d be entertained with his cloying dreck.