Title: The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet
Release Date: 16 October 2013
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Production Company: Cross Creek Pictures | Epithète Films | Filmarto | France 2 Cinéma | Gaumont | Orange Cinéma Séries | Tapioca Films
French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is responsible for three of my favorite films of all time: Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, and Amélie. And yet, I only recently became aware of this most recent release of Jeunet’s from 2013, for which the loathsome Harvey Weinstein is partially to blame. This is Jeunet’s first film set in the United States and in the English language, and as such his whimsical approach to filmmaking suddenly feels a lot like a lot like Wes Anderson.
The titular T.S. Spivet (Kyle Catlett) is a ten-year-old science and engineering prodigy living on a ranch in rural Montana. His mother, Dr. Clair (Helena Bonham Carter) is a devoted entomologist while his father, Tecumseh Elijah Spivet (Callum Keith Rennie), is a laconic cowboy “born 100 years too late.” T.S. siblings are older sister Gracie Spivet (Niamh Wilson), a wannabe actor who mocks her family’s obsessions, and brother Layton (Jakob Davies), who is like their father in miniature. We learn early on that Layton was killed in an accident while using a firearm and the way each family member deals with their grief is a key part of the movie.
T.S. wins an award from the Smithsonian Institute for inventing a perpetual motion device and feeling that his family wouldn’t understand, decides to travel on his own to Washington, D.C. to receive the award. The better part of the film documents his journey by freight train and hitchhiking. Jeunet’s direction captures the beautiful landscapes of the American West and feels as if it’s a peculiarly French understanding of American mythology.
While the movie has it’s share of adventures and quirkiness, it is overall a sad movie dealing with very heavy grief. When T.S. is sad or scared we really feel it, and when he’s injured part way through the film he continues to suffer the injury for the rest of the story. Unfortunately, Catlett doesn’t seem to be an experienced enough actor when it comes to delivering dialogue and when he talks like a detached scientist it feels artificial. I really wanted to love this film, and there are a lot of elements that are great, but overall it feels like it missed the mark. But and A for effort, I guess.