Right now, as you are reading this, there is a prospective film student somewhere framing a black and white shot of two despondent teenagers smoking cloves and drolly mumbling about kitten rape. He hopes to be the next Harmony Korine. I hope a city bus dispatches Darwinian (or potentially Kubrickian) street justice.
Harmony Korine is the reason why it’s impossible to get people to watch art house films. Short of “having to read the foreigner talk” that keeps most of the great unwashed from breaking free from the safe neon embrace of the multiplex, the second greatest fear is the supposed narcissistic “artistry” of trolls like Harmony Korine. Navel-gazing platitudes exchanged by disaffected protagonists tumbling through a plot both as incoherently disorganized and sloppily jumbled as a Spears family reunion at Waffle House. Hipsters revere Korine because he’s both incomprehensible and unpleasant to watch, so it must be too cool for us regular peons to understand or appreciate.
Mister Lonely is probably Korine’s most cohesive narrative, but that’s somewhat akin to being the Pussycat Doll who’d score highest on “Celebrity Jeopardy.” A Michael Jackson impersonator, oh-so-cleverly named Michael and played with doe-like sexual innocence by Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien), meets up with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (the not-of-this-world-and-God-how-I-wish-not-of-this-movie Samantha Morton) while performing at an old folks home. She’s married to a Charlie Chaplin impersonator and mother to a little Shirley Temple impersonator. They live in a castle on an island in the middle of a forest somewhere in probably France, with a bunch of other impersonators. She invites him to come and live with the rest of the Turner Movie Classics castoffs in their happy little commune where they hope to make money putting on the “Greatest Show Ever Conceived.” Two hours later, I find another movie to add to the Netflix queue that will be on constant loop in my own Cultural Hell.
That’s it. That’s the entire movie. It’s got a plot in so much as Michael goes to the commune and lives there, as opposed to the rest of Korine’s oeuvre, where characters are just hanging out doing shit. This time, the characters are just hanging out doing shit IN COSTUME. Unlike the usual human anomalies that inhabit the world of his films, these characters have personalities that are merely reflections of who they are pretending to be. It’s ultimately the laziest kind of filmmaking, hiding behind some sort of sloven attempt at John Lennonesque proselytizing. You don’t get to be the talented Beatle just because you say “imagine” over and over while smoking a joint in bed. You get to be Brian fucking Wilson.
Everything is wasted in this story, up to and including the writer-director himself. I’m sure this seemed like a totally boss idea when he got whacked out on peyote while falling asleep in front of AMC, but it doesn’t do any justice to the characters to have them wander aimlessly from heavy-handed metaphor to inexplicable slow-motion shots of non-sequitarian snapshots like you’re trying to capture the soul of Gary Larson on film. It’s excusable when you’re diddling around with bored suburban teens in an attempt to get into Chloe Sevigny’s androgynous pants; it’s a violation of the Geneva Convention when you waste the time of Morton and Werner Herzog.
The concept could have been really intriguing, had Korine bothered to care about the celebrities he was characterizing. It’s like a wax museum off a rural turnpike exit in a one-horse town: Sammy Davis, Jr., Madonna, James Dean, the pope, Abe Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, Charlie Chaplin, Buckwheat, the Three Stooges, and for some completely fucking baffling reason, Little Red Riding Hood. Instead of richly exploring the reasons why they chose the personalities they did, or who they are, or where they came from, Korine gives them the briefest of identities and hookup partners like the cast for “The Real World: Branson.” Abe Lincoln has a fouler mouth than the Wu Tang Clan Christmas Album, ‘cause it’s so funny if an ex-president says “fuck” all the time. The pope is a drunkard bedding Queen Elizabeth. That alone could be worthy of a film. But here, we don’t care enough about any character or their relationships to even bother getting attached. Even charming or funny scenes are about five minutes and apropos of nothing. Buckwheat rides a pony, talking about juicy chicken breasts and juicy women’s breasts. It’s just in the middle of the movie for no reason and would have operated as a great YouTube download, which is where Harmony Korine should be releasing the rest of his movies.
In the middle of all this chaos, we are treated to another thread that involves a commune of nuns who can fall out of airplanes and miraculously survive. I only mention this for two points. One, Werner Herzog plays the priest who oversees the missionary group, and he’s hilarious only because he’s Werner Herzog. Two, there are scenes of nuns skydiving on bicycles. Why? There is no reason. None. The nuns just falling out of the airplane make sense to whatever extent they can. But nuns doing fucking X-Games stunts is pushing it too far.
Korine imbues every scene with such blatant hamfisted symbolism it’s insulting to the audience. For example, the commune has a herd of black sheep. Wait, it gets better. One of the sheep goes sick, and the government is called in to do testing. The entire herd has to be slaughtered. The entire herd of BLACK SHEEP, on the commune of OUTSIDERS, has to be executed. Instead of letting the government do the ewe, the impersonators send the Three Stooges to blast them away with shotguns. I guess having Abe Lincoln dress up like Uncle Sam and anal fist the Statue of Liberty might have been too subtle.
Right now, there are bearded and bespectacled chumleys in their striped sweaters pounding their plastic nametags in horror. Obviously, I’m just another boorish sheep in the herd, who should bleat my praise of “I-Ron Man” and who can’t appreciate the subtle beauty and fierce outsider nature of a visionary artiste like Korine. I’m not saying you need to fill this movie with explosions or boobs or fart jokes to make it interesting. If you want to make a quiet, thoughtful movie, try a little David Gordon Green on for size. I’m not saying you need to put the cast of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Lost” in it. You’ve got a great cast, and Samantha Morton is rocking this bizarre Jenna-Fischer-as-Pam from-“The Office” vibe, and you can’t take your eyes off her. I’m not saying it has to be conformist. Todd Solondz makes plenty of works that are about pedophilia and teenagers trying to get pregnant. John Waters has been outrageous since you were a diehard sperm wriggling your way through the wet spot on the crotch of the jeans your father was dry humping backstage at CBGB. I’m sick of people lazily cobbling a film out of cigarette smoke-clouded clichés and correspondence course philosophy, and then turning on the film-viewing public because we don’t recognize it as art. Just because you pause and enunciate while talking doesn’t make everything you spout poetry.
Harmony Korine is the reason why film festivals are populated with self-indulgent films about young people trying to fuck or drug their way out of their dreary hometown existences. Legitimately better films can’t get funding or audience attention anymore because of crap like this poisoning the well for everyone. Korine almost lost his life trying to film fistfights, and I can only hope he succeeds next time.
Brian Prisco is a warrior-poet from the valley of North Hollywood, by way of Philadelphia. He wastes most of his life in desk jobs, biding his time until he finally becomes an actor, a writer, or cannon fodder in the inevitable zombie invasion. He can be found shaking his fist and angrily shouting at clouds on his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.I'm Bad! I'm Bad. You Know It. You Know.
Film | May 20, 2008 | Comments ()