Few directors can balance audaciousness with sheer originality as Harmony Korine can. Writing the screenplay to Kids, Larry Clark’s inspired social black hole, when still a teenager marked his talent like a long overdue oasis. Like the best artists across all formats, Korine opted to give the audience that this acclaim created exactly what they didn’t expect with his directorial debut, the surreal exposition that is Gummo. Those that stuck with him for Julien Donkey-Boy were suitably rewarded. Although still relentlessly bleak, casting Werner Herzog as a sadistic father fixated with his gas mask was just one of a number of strokes of genius. Like a conceptual updating of cult classic Bad Boy Bubby, Julien Donkey-Boy made even the most dedicated aficionados of taboo-breaking cinema visibly wince.
Mister Lonely is Korine’s third directorial feature and his originality is defiantly intact from the opening scene of a Michael Jackson playfully pirouetting around on a mini-bike. And it’s much easier viewing than Gummo or Julien Donkey-Boy, if still a work that never opts to take the road much travelled. At moments it borders on a style of comedy that isn’t even necessarily dark.
Diego Luna (of Y Tu Mamá También fame and, *spit*, The Terminal) plays a Michael Jackson impersonator whose soul takes a beating from a succession of dire bookings. His determination to be the best Jacko he can dictates that he convinces even in the face of apparent adversity (his gig in a retirement home has to be seen to be believed). He forms a strong bond with Marilyn Monroe (well, Samantha Morton playing a Monroe impersonator) and she offers him an escape away from his unsuccessful Parisian life. They retreat to a commune in the Scottish highlands full of other look-alikes including the Queen, Abraham Lincoln, Buckwheat and Little Red Riding Hood. The group plot a gala performance to raise funds.
Meanwhile, Herzog plays a missionary (think Father Jack reincarnated as a cult leader) determined to lead a convent on a journey of dubious potential.
Remarkably more accessible than any of his prior work, Mister Lonely is full of dazzling imagery as Korine’s sense of the absurd operates in full throttle, thus stretching Mister Lonely from moments comically unhinged to those deeply sorrowful in small bounds. The plot and, understandably, the characterisation are more erratically constructed. This dichotomy makes Mister Lonely is a must see for inquisitive minds, if not a work that will be remembered with great fondness.