The contemporary setting of The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet feels archaic. Based on the best-seller by Reif Larsen, director Jeunet (Amélie) forays into 3D, recreating Montana as an outdoorsy realm of prairies and railroads where T.S. (Catlett) and twin brother Layton rope us in to their obsessions and those of their lovingly incompatible parents: entomology (mother, played by Bonham Carter) and the cowboy life (father).
Then a tragic accident brings down the curtain on paradise. Failed by parents whose mourning is non-communication, the prodigiously young prodigy T.S. takes it upon himself to re-invent the perpetual motion of familial interaction by stowing away on trains to DC to receive a Smithsonian award for a machine demonstrating… perpetual motion.
Not surprisingly, the story and Jeunet’s mise-en-scène are reminiscent of the specialist charms evinced by Amélie, and a Wes Anderson-meets-Little Miss Sunshine scenario. Unfortunately, there’s more derivativeness to come. Generically the use of a real journey to reflect a process of individual (and familial) reconstruction is an ancient narrative (Ulysses, anyone?). Specifically, the use of 3D to get inside the mechanics of a young person’s mind has also been done – and well, by Scorsese in Hugo.
Jeunet’s engaging version of familial failings feels quaintly old-hattish.
The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivet | Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (France, Canada 2013) with Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter. Starts July 10
Originally published in issue #129, July/August 2014.