Harmony Korine’s 2007 film about the lives of a group of impressionists living communally in a stately home in the highlands of Scotland is a celebration of living and loving what you do. It’s much more mainstream than the rest of Korine’s work and perhaps suffers because of it. Mister Lonely is a uniquely beautiful but ultimately dull and minor film in this otherwise fascinating director’s canon.
Told through the eyes of a lonely Michael Jackson impersonator eeking a living in the streets (and nursing homes) of Paris, the main body of the film is intertwined with seemingly unrelated scenes of a second story, involving priests and nuns and their adventures with an aeroplane. As insane as this sounds, it does lead to some beautifully shot sky scenes and an amusingly deadpan performance by the always brilliant Werner Herzog. It’s sad that these tiny, fascinating snippets are actually more interesting than the story proper and that the story in which we spend most of our time is the duller of the two.
As something of an edgy and credible film-maker, Harmony Korine’s work divides people. From his controversial writing debut – Larry Clark’s film Kids – he put in place the stylistic hallmarks for the rest of his career. His films are laced with casual sex, drug use, and naturalistic performances, often from people normally classed as ‘outsiders’ to society. Mister Lonely is about a group of characters who have deliberately set out to separate themselves from society to live their lives on their own terms. While this central idea is fine, sometimes Korine’s message of living with originality and creativity is forced on the viewer a little too obviously – the group keep a flock of black sheep, for instance – while some scenes feel like forced quirkiness.
The cast play their roles with naturalistic aplomb. Strangely, Samantha Morton gives the weakest performance as Marilyn Monroe, who always seems very unsure of her role in the film, trying to keep up with Diego Luna’s Michael Jackson. Rounding out the motley crew of characters we have Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant), James Dean (Joseph Morgan), Abraham Lincoln (Richard Strange), and many others. All are solid, but it is Luna’s heartfelt and triumphant performance as Michael that makes the film more than the sum of its parts.
It’s difficult for even the most talented of directors to make the jump from a cult favourite to a big-budget big-hitter. David Lynch failed with Dune, and Harmony Korine fails with this. That said, Mister Lonely is not especially bad, it’s just not especially good. The beautiful cinematography just doesn’t make up for the lack of an interesting story, and the small infuriating snippets of the other, more interesting story are a reminder of how good this film could have been.
Best scene: Any scenes featuring Werner Herzog as Father Umbrillo, but the best has to be the scene in which he cleanses the adulterer of his sins.
Best line: ‘How is it possible that a nun can fly?’
Watch this if you liked – The Idiots, Even Dwarfs Started Small.