The Young And Prodigious T. S. Spivet (2014)

The Young And Prodigious T S SpivetThings haven’t been the same in the Spivet household since Layton (Jakob Davies) died. Sure, his older sister (Niamh Wilson) still wants to be Miss America, his mother (Helena Bonham Carter) still obsesses over insects and his father (Callum Keith Rennie) is still a cowboy out of time, but for young T. S. (Kyle Catlett) the tragedy still casts an incredibly large shadow. When T. S. — now 10 years old — receives a call from the Smithsonian Museum informing him that he has won their esteemed Baird prize for his work on perpetual motion he is at first reluctant to accept, but after some thought decides to leave a note for his family and set off alone on a journey that will take him from Montana to Washington DC.

Based on Reif Larsen’s 2009 bestseller The Selected Works Of T. S. Spivet, a book which defied convention by containing almost as many supplementary maps and annotations as plotted paragraphs, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest marks the director’s first English-language feature since Alien Resurrection. Tonally, and in just about every other sense too, the film bears a much greater resemblance to Jeunet’s more resent French works, including the almost universally adored Amélie. Quirky, colourful and surreal, The Young And Prodigious T. S. Spivet is everything audiences have come to expect from the auteur.

As ever, it’s writer, director, producer Jeunet’s eccentric approach to characterisation that sets his film apart from Hollywood’s rather more homogenised attempts at coming-of-age drama. Even the deliciously dark A Series Of Unfortunate Events ultimately failed to break the mould for bonkers but not too bleak bildungsroman. T. S. is a gifted but troubled soul, and though he may be prone to flights of fancy and borderline Autistic asides there is real guilt, grief and regret at the character’s heart. Newcomer Catlett carries it off beautifully, and unlike most child actors he sells the character’s weaknesses with as much success as his innocent pluck.

T.S. Spivet is full of great characters — from Bonham-Carter’s tiger monk beetle-obsessed Dr. Claire to T. S.’s insecure science teacher, who dismisses his pupil’s homework assignments only to be shown that they’ve been erstwhile published in respected scientific journals — but they are sadly squandered on a scattering of half-realised scenes. Although it is in fact adapted from one book, The Young And Prodigious T. S. Spivet feels as though it has been carelessly assembled from episodes taken from across a series, for the various subplots are often awkward and disjointed, refusing to come together in any satisfying way. The ending is particularly disappointing, as T.S.’s issues are finally aired and put to rest — not with his family by his side, but on a televised chat show orchestrated and overseen by Judy Davis’ conniving Jibsen.

The Young And Prodigious T. S. Spivet looks great (particularly in 3D), goes to some pretty dark places (there is a reason T. S. feels responsible for his brother’s death) and boasts some fine performances (if you don’t remember Wilson from the Saw series then you will from this) but despite its many strengths the lacklustre narrative means that it ultimately disappoints. While idiosyncrasy in a character can be cute, when it comes to narrative shape and structure sometimes it pays to be a little more conventional.





About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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