Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, Callum Keith Rennie, Niamh Wilson, Dominique Pinon, Richard Jutras, Jakob Davies.
Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet is something of a mouthful of a name. But then again T S Spivet (played by newcomer Kyle Catlett) is not your normal 10 year old boy. A precocious genius from a rather unusual and eccentric family that live on a farm in the American midwest, T S has an interest in cartography and inventing things. His father (Callum Keith Rennie) wanted to be a cowboy, but was born about 100 year too late. His mother Dr Clair (Helena Bonham Carter) collects beetles and has an interest in documenting and recording every species of insect. His older sister Gracie (Niamh Wilson) is also a precocious brat who dreams of winning beauty contests and becoming an award winning actress. And his twin brother Layton, well he recently got shot in the head during a scientific experiment in the barn that went wrong. Layton was the favourite son of his father, and now a palpable air of sadness and gloom has settled over the household.
T S invents a perpetual motion machine, an invention which wins a prestigious scientific award from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Unaware that Spivet is only 10, the fussy secretary of the Smithsonian (a wonderful Judy Davis) invites him to accept his award at a lavish ceremony. Without telling his family, Spivet leaves his farm, and heads east on his own. An outsider and a loner himself, Spivet meets a number of interesting people, most of them also outsiders, during his cross country journey. They impart little pearls of wisdom.
Adapted from Reif Larson’s 2009 book The Selected Works Of T S Spivet, this is a beautifully crafted, visually rich and offbeat road movie and coming of age tale about the innocence of childhood, grief, guilt, family, and discovering oneself. This is the second English language film from French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet following his work on 1997’s Alien Resurrection. Jeunet is well known for his early collaborations with director and illustrator Marc Caro (Delicatessen, The City Of Lost Children, etc), and the distinctive and rich visual style he developed. Jeunet has further developed his idiosyncratic visual style through his solo films like the crowd pleasing Amelie, Micmacs, etc, which take us into meticulously created worlds and on wondrous adventures.
The quirky but thoroughly enjoyable T S Spivet is full of his usual visual flourishes, magical realism and little shambolic narrative detours that add interest and fascinating details to the central story. It will certainly appeal to those who enjoyed Amelie, or even Martin Scorsese’s delightful Hugo, as it has a similar tone. Jeunet also makes great use of the 3D process and a vivid colour pallet to further heighten the surreal world that Spivet inhabits. The film looks great, thanks to the gorgeous wide screen cinematography of Thomas Hardmeier.
Newcomer Catlett is excellent as the precocious T S, delivering a nicely low key and charming performance; although his voice over narration is sometimes a little hard to discern. Davis plays another variation of her usual high strung and neurotic type as the fussy head of the Smithsonian. Bonham Carter relishes playing wonderfully eccentric and offbeat characters, and she adds to her rich resume with another typically strong performance here as T S’s distracted and self-absorbed mother.
The Young And Prodigious T S Spivet is a delightful little film that will appeal to audiences of all ages.