Fans of Michel Gondry’s weird and wonderful music videos have been wondering when the director was going to make a movie that would resemble his whimsical three-minute extravaganzas.
Oh sure, Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” from a thoughtful screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, was one of the best movies of its year. And Gondry’s other features had moments. But they didn’t have the pure ingenuous kookiness of his music-vid stuff.
Well, “The Science of Sleep” is a film that brings Gondry into the playground of his mind. Working from his own script, the movie has pinballing imagination, quirkiness, and crazy special effects.
And it doesn’t work. Where have you gone, Charlie Kaufman?
“Science of Sleep” follows a young man named Stephane, played by Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries”). He returns to Paris, where his mother lives, after years spent in Mexico.
Stephane is an artist, but his new job allows no creativity. His apartment feels lonely too, although the woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who lives across the hallway seems rather nice.
There’s very little plot hung around Stephane’s plight; frequently we’re inside his head, looking at his dreams or the TV talk show that seems to be going on inside his noggin. These are fun the first time you see them. And Stephane’s life inside his office is recognizable to anybody who ever felt stifled in a 9-to-5 job.
As a visual fantasist, Gondry takes a back seat to no one. You can sit back with this movie and just enjoy watching the strange, childlike visions roll out.
The problem is, there’s a difference between watching Gondry’s wackiness in three-minute bites and watching it over the space of 105 minutes. In a feature-length movie, you begin to look for through-lines and some kind of momentum.
This movie has no momentum. And so even if you’re inclined to be charmed by Gondry’s cuteness, and even if you find Gael Garcia Bernal a likable guide through this oddball world, the weightless nature of the material becomes a drag. And that’s the death of whimsy.
Gael Garcia Bernal stars in “The Science of Sleep.”