Gondry’s whimsy wears thin in ‘Mood Indigo’

Michel Gondry’s capacity for imagining wacky designs and adorable contraptions is so boundless he makes Santa’s elves look like dull-witted slackers. The French director of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind” is on some kind of perpetual adolescent overdrive, his brain inventing new bits of business as though nobody’d ever asked him to be normal.

In his best films, this can be charming. In “Mood Indigo,” it results in a fun opening half-hour followed by an increasingly tiresome hour of hyperactivity. (This running time describes the U.S. release, a 94-minute job; in Europe the movie clocked in at 131 minutes.)

Gondry’s source is a novel, “L’Écume des jours,” by Boris Vian, a big mid-century cult figure in France but little appreciated in the states. We meet a young man named Colin (Romain Duris) whose wealth allows him to fritter away the days with his multi-faceted advisor-manservant Nicolas (Omar Sy, from “The Intouchables”) and a talking mouse.

Colin invents things, such as a piano that mixes cocktails based on the melody being played. His best friend is Chick (Gad Emaleh), an obsessive fan of the famous philosopher Jean-Sol Partre. Yes, you read that right.

Colin meets the ideal girl in Chloe (Audrey Tautou, not so far from her old “Amelie” stomping grounds here). They fly above Paris in a mechanical cloud and perform a dance that makes their limbs stretch out to Plastic Man-esque proportions. Such bliss cannot last, and Chloe soon contracts an illness that involves a water lily growing inside her lung.

If you could isolate this film’s scenes, looking at “Mood Indigo” would be highly enjoyable. Colin’s contraptions are fun. I liked the mouse. Tautou and Duris (he’s the wolfish leading man lately seen in “Chinese Puzzle”) are cute.

There’s a rainstorm that falls in half the screen, so one character gets wet while the other stays dry. It all comes at you lickety-split, and for the record we should note that perhaps the full-length version catches an appropriate rhythm that this cut doesn’t hit.

No kidding, Gondry is a kind of wizard. Nobody does a four-minute music video with as much magical inventiveness, but there’s a vast miscalculation here about how this amount of whimsy wears over time. Wes Anderson is positively grave by comparison.

“Mood Indigo” (2 stars)

The wildly imaginative Michel Gondry spins a whimsical tale of an inventor (Romain Duris) who meets his ideal girl (Audrey Tautou) only to have tragedy strike. The movie has a fun opening half-hour of crazy gizmos (a piano that pours cocktails, for instance) and then an increasingly tiresome hour of hyperactivity. In French, with English subtitles.

Rating: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter

Opening: Friday at the Varsity.

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