Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with another review of Michel Gondry's SCIENCE OF SLEEP. I have seen this flick as well and I really dug it. Nobody, and I mean nobody, portrays flawed relationships like Gondry. It's not as likable as ETERNAL SUNSHINE, but SLEEP has its own personality and its own unique vibe. I really like it, but Iamnicksaicnsn walked away disappointed. Here's his view!
I’ve got a review for ya, and boy was this movie a doozy. I saw “The Science of Sleep” last night. As many AICN readers already know, this movie was directed by Michel Gondry, the director of the timeless “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” as well as Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” “Human Nature,” and his cornucopia of genius music videos.
I’ve been a fan of Gondry for years, and was insanely excited to see “The Science” early after getting a preview ticket from my local San Francisco comic store, The Comic Outpost (shameless plug). The preview looked great, and Gael GarcÃa Bernal is an incredible actor who looked like he was going to bat this beyotch out of the park. I was even willing to accept Charlotte Gainsbourg as the lead love interest, because even though she isn’t as attractive as Kate Winslet, she’s got a foreign accent, which gives her way more points. Needless to say, I had high expectations.
So were those expectations met? Unfortunately, I have to say not totally. The movie was cool, no doubt. Gondry’s awesome visuals were here in full force, and they were as charming as they always are. I did feel some personal conflict over his use of a movie screen behind Bernal: “could it have been cooler if it was more 3D? Is it charming because it’s so simple, but the visuals are cool?” Other than that, they were great, and everything we could have come to expect. I particularly enjoyed a scene where Bernal’s character StÃ©phane is dreaming that he’s a drug dealer, and he looks outside and sees a cop car about to get him, and the car is just a regular car covered in cardboard and aluminum foil and says “Police” on the side (or something, I can’t remember specifically, it was funny though).
And as expected, Gondry brings out great performances: Bernal kicked ass with his not so great character (bwah? I’ll get to that later), Gainsbourg was charming and pretty and foreign, Alain Chabat was hilarious as StÃ©phane’s lewd co-worker buddy, Emma De Caunes was sexy as Gainsbourg’s friend in her few scenes, and AurÃ©lia Petit and Sacha Bourdo brought more comic relief as StÃ©phane’s other co-workers.
“So what about the plot,” you say? Here’s where things get a little funky (WITH SPOILERS). The movie starts out promising: StÃ©phane is just moving to France to be with his mother after his father has died of cancer in Mexico, which causes some funny dark jokes at his dad’s expense. His English is good, and his Spanish is good, and apparently his French is ok, but he’s too shy to use it in front of people other than his mom. StÃ©phane’s an artist, and thinks his mom has gotten him a cool job designing calendar art, but when he shows up for work, he discovers the only thing he gets to do is paste the dates and months on the master sheets.
He’s pissed, and threatens leaving, but one day on his way to work, he sees some movers trying to get a piano into the next-door apartment. They’re struggling and almost drop it, so he tries to help keep it up, but it falls on his hand, then down the stairs, and this is when he meets StÃ©phanie and her friend ZoÃ©. ZoÃ© patches him up, and he thinks he likes ZoÃ©, but he leaves without getting her number, and since it’s StÃ©phanie’s apartment, he feels awkward about getting ZoÃ©’s number since it looks like StÃ©phanie likes him. So StÃ©phane hangs out with StÃ©phanie, and they meet up and go out with ZoÃ© and Guy, his friend from work (Alain Chabat). StÃ©phane ultimately realizes he likes StÃ©phanie, - she’s creative, artistic, interesting – and through a series of dream-induced hallucinations, tries to tell her, but because he showed so much of a lack of interest, and because through a dream he gave her a note asking her for ZoÃ©’s number, she loses interest in him, and only wants to be his friend.
From here, StÃ©phane spends most of the movie trying to win over StÃ©phanie with his child-like charm and inventions; several particularly funny and interesting scenes involve his “one-second time machine” that can go forward or backward in time one second. And here is also where the movie started to go awry for me. Because StÃ©phane is the protagonist, we feel we have to root for him to get StÃ©phanie. But after thinking about the movie more, I never felt that he deserved her: StÃ©phane had good intentions, and ultimately is a nice guy, but he’s also bratty and whiney, and even cries a lot, which StÃ©phanie even admits “it’s unattractive when guys cry.” Yeah, he makes her cool things, but why else does she like this insecure complainer? Not to mention the fact that he can’t discern his dreams from reality, and how he seems to day dream false realities.
Speaking of his dreams, what is really cool, but eventually damaging, about this movie is how his life blends with his dreams. As a viewer, you are totally brought into his world and see it through his eyes: “is he dreaming here, is he dreaming now? Are they just figments of his imagination? Wait, now are we in a frakin’ dream? Bwaaah?” His fantasies are often hilarious, and very surreal, just like a good dream should be. I especially enjoyed whenever he was in his studio, which we got glimpses at in the trailer. I also liked a scene when StÃ©phane tried to manipulate his dreams and all the characters in his REM sleep with a voice recorder.
Which brings us to the ending: Our lovers come close to getting together, but through StÃ©phane’s day dreams and whiney paranoia, he always manages to fuck it up to the point where he’s ready to go back to Mexico and she’s more than happy to let him go because of all his bullshit. In the final scene, StÃ©phane’s mom makes him say good-bye to StÃ©phanie before he sets off for the airport, and so he goes into StÃ©phanie’s apartment and tries talking to her. He starts to charm the pants off of her, and everything seems to be going ok, but then he throws in some lewd comments, and just as he’s about to get kicked out, he jumps up on to her mezzanine bed, cries and complains. He falls asleep and starts dreaming about going away with her on a horse (shown in the trailer) and on a miniature boat they worked on together. She comes up and lays next to him with a demoralized look on her face, and sort of pets his hair… then screen goes to black, credits roll.
What? We went through all that craziness and there’s no pay off? Does he stay and they live happily ever after? Does she kick him out? What happens?!?
And like so many dreams, we wake up before the end. We wake up before closure. So if that’s what Gondry was going for, then yes, he’s definitely succeeded in making a great recreation of dreams, and as my friend said, “a case study in insecurity.” Ultimately, it felt like a kinder, more surreal (if that’s even possible) version of “Eternal Sunshine,” but as a viewer, I couldn’t help but feel unfulfilled.
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