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Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo is so thoroughly drenched in whimsy it makes Wes Anderson look like David Fincher. The whimsy will gag you like a balled-up sock in your mouth. It’s not long before the whimsy makes you want to vomit all over the screen, just like Gondry vomited his whimsy on you.
What the whimsy doesn’t do, however, is add to the story, even though the plot itself is intolerantly precious. Adapted by Gondry and Luc Bossi from a novel by Boris Vian, Mood Indigo is about Chloe (Audrey Tautou, naturally) and Colin (Romain Duris), insta-lovers who meet when Colin, hearing that his friends have found ladies of their own, says, “I want to fall in love, too!”
Boom. Done. People repeatedly push him toward Chloe at a party, even though Colin thinks he keeps bungling the small talk and would rather run. (I would run if someone’s wrist turned 360 degrees during a handshake, but that’s just one example of the supposed-to-be-delightful surrealism of the film.) What astute matchmakers those cupids were: On the their first date, Chloe tells Colin that they have the rest of their lives to get conversation right.
But that might not be a whole lot of time. Because Chloe discovers that she is very ill, due to—wait for it—a flower growing in her lung.
A fucking flower.
No one but the erstwhile Amélie could believably play this role, and Tautou’s cuteness goes to 11 throughout. But that only reinforces the feeling that she and Duris are inhabiting not real, fleshed-out characters but cartoons. You don’t feel their attraction or their happiness. And after Chloe is diagnosed, you don’t feel their despair. Sure, Duris paces and mugs. But when there’s no emotion to start with, though, there’s no emotion to change.
Perhaps the running time is to blame. The international version of Mood Indigo is reportedly a half-hour shorter than the original, a significant edit. Maybe the depth, the persuasiveness of Chloe and Colin’s relationship has suffered as a result. Or maybe Gondry just had more time in the first cut to cram in effects like food that squirms on its plate, a doorbell that looks and skitters like an insect, and dancers whose limbs don’t just move to the beat, but stretch and intertwine as if the dancers were human Gumbys.
The list of such surrealist details is endless, which, for me, made the 94-minute film feel endless, too. There’s too much weirdness here; it’s impossible to focus on the story when you’re wondering why the hell Gondry would shoot a regular, aboveground post-wedding march out of a church, then put everyone under water, then switch back to dry land again. And you can’t appreciate the loveliness that’s inherent in the plot when the effects are grotesque. (Watching humans elasticize like Stretch Armstrong can truly turn the stomach.)
Gondry’s imagination might be overcompensating for the Hollywood flattening evident in his 2011 film The Green Hornet. Several lines of dialogue in his latest piece repeat words in threes: “très, très, très,” or “oui, oui, oui.” It’s fitting, therefore, to say that while the director’s return to his distinctive style is welcome, the amount of fancy in Mood Indigo is very, very, very unbearable.