Kids—Don’t Try This at Home!

I was very excited when the editor of Influx asked me if I wanted to review the latest film from the French film director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  After all, he’s probably the most original and exciting filmmaker in the world—and although he’s only directed about a dozen films, they’ve sure included some wonderful gems.  In an upcoming article, I’ll talk about several of these terrific films—but this article is devoted to his newest films, The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet.

This film is very unusual for Jeunet because it’s in English and is set in the United States.  While he previously directed Alien: Resurrection, his films are usually in his native language.   However, like most of his movies, it is very strange and has a wonderfully unique sense of style that is pure Jeunet.  It’s hard to exactly describe this style—you just have to see it to believe and appreciate it.  This oddness is actually what makes most of his films so wonderful.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet
Directed by
Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Helena Bonham Carter, Robert Maillet, Callum Keith Rennie
Release Date
Martin’s Grade: A

As far as the film being set in America, I was not totally surprised by this—especially since a lot of the film is set in the American West.  When I have visited France on several occasions, I was very surprised to see that many folks there were very fascinated with the old west and cowboys.  The biggest shock was inside the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Paris, as inside this mansion are, believe it or not, cowboys!

The film is about a very small and unique 10 year-old, T.S. Spivet (Kyle Catlett).  T.S. is a strange child who is a lot like Dexter from Dexter’s Lab or Jimmy Neutron—a boy genius with an intellect far, far in advance of his years.  You learn just how smart he is when the boy receives a call from the Smithsonian Institution.  It seems that the kid has received the very prestigious Baird Award for ingenuity and inventiveness.  However, the folks have no idea T.S. is a child and naturally think he’s an adult.  After all, he’s invented an amazing machine to demonstrate perpetual motion.  When they invite T.S. to come to Washington to receive the award, he does something very strange—he accepts and never tells his parents.  Instead, he treks from Montana to Washington!  What’s to become of this little prodigy?  In addition to this main plot, there are subplots involving T.S.’s dead brother (who, oddly, appears to T.S. periodically throughout the film and has conversations with T.S.!) and his very quirky family.

This film has a somewhat slow and meandering pace that reminded me a bit of the recent Oscar-nominee, Nebraska.  Some may be put off my this or the strangeness of the characters, but to me this is what make this a wonderful and entertaining film.  I appreciated the nice, low-key performance by Catlett and it’s a nice testament to Jeunet that he was able to coax this out of the boy.  Additionally, I really, really appreciated the uniqueness of the plot and way it was handled. Too often films seem awfully familiar, but this is certainly not the case with this nice film.  Well worth seeing for audiences of all ages.  This Jeunet film is much more normal than many of his films, but the style is definitely his.  Additionally, like in so many of his films there is an appearance by Dominique Pinon—an actor that always seems to show up in Jeunet’s movies.  I appreciate this, as I have loved Pinon in many films—ranging from Diva to Delicatessen.

By the way, since this is such an unusual film, feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think. Email address below.

Review by Lead Entertainment Writer and Film Critic, Martin Hafer