The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet
In 1991 French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet rose to global fame with his cannibal-comedy Delicatessen. In 2001 Jeunet went on to make Amélie, a whimsical tale of a young Parisian woman who strives to bring joy to those who surrounded her. After a few more successful French films, returns to the English language for the first time since 1997’s Alien: Resurrection with The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet.
The film carries over Amelie’s whimsy to tell the story of ten-year-old boy genius T.S. Spivet (Kyle Catlett). T.S. was raised in Montana by a family scarred by tragedy. In a flashback that recalls Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, T.S. witnesses his brother Layton’s accidental death. Blaming himself, T.S. regresses to his room where he endlessly works on scientific experiments. He cannot compete with the relationship his brother shared with their father (Callum Keith Rennie), instead finding himself close to his mother (a superb Helena Bonham Carter), a bug expert. After submitting his blueprints for a machine capable of creating perpetual motion to the Smithsonian Institute, T.S. is called and told that he has been awarded the prestigious Baird Prize. The catch is, the Smithsonian has no idea that they are dealing with a ten-year-old. T.S. runs away from home on a journey to Washington D.C., where he will accept his prize.
The film is pervaded with the grief the Spivet family feels over the death of Layton. This adds an air of sadness to the film that tries quite hard to be fun and quirky. This tone is trademark for Jeunet, and is ultimately what stops the film from becoming an overly-cute slog.
Jeunet shoots the entire film in 3D, making great use of the tool throughout. Cinematographer Thomas Hardmeier uses an overly saturated colour pallet, which literally jumps from the screen. The 3D is never obtuse, remaining subtle when required.
Helena Bonham Carter shines as T.S’ mother Dr. Clair. Bonham Carter thrives with quirky characters, specifically when she is not being directed by Time Burton. Kyle Catlett is good enough as T.S., but the role really does not ask for much from him aside from being cute.
Ultimately, while The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet may be Jeunet-lite, it is a welcome addition to his filmography. The film entertains, and manages to be quite quirky without ever becoming annoying.