T.S. Spivet Review
The twee 3D (“twee-D”) family caper T.S. Spivet has perhaps confused its source material for an instruction manual, given Reif Larsen’s 2009 novel decorates its pages with illustrations, diagrams and maps. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the intricate visuals can only convey the title character’s ingenuity to a certain extent, as the humour is more occupied with T.S. (Kyle Catlett) as a child with the hyperactive imagination of someone raised on Malcolm in the Middle or Scrubs. By this I mean expect several cutaways to cartoonish daydreams – one example involves a fork in the road with signs labelled “Prairie of Truth” and “Mountain of Lies”.The bright, beautifully rendered look is redolent of Amélie, Jeunet’s most famous (and divisive) work. Instead of Parisian romance, T.S. views the world with awe and scientific wonder: every object and creature exists at naturally selected angles. He hides away on a farm in Montana with a family recovering from the death of his brother. The mother (Helena Bonham Carter) is an academic who doesn’t notice his emotional anguish, possibly because her glasses aren’t 3D-compatible. What she also doesn’t detect is T.S. has been sending out blueprints and plans for a perpetual motion machine. The 10-year-old is awarded a prize by the Smithsonian museum who, assuming he’s an adult, request he delivers a talk at a ceremony. What follows is a solo trip to Washington via hopping on a freight train and sneaking past authority figures; the latter mostly consists of flat physical humour more commonly found in children’s cartoons. (There’s also a suitcase-packing scene completely derivative of Rushmore.)Without giving anything away, T.S. Spivet almost wins me over in its last act. By this point, the character of T.S. has progressed from an obnoxious brat with a runny nose into a gifted prodigy struck by tragedy; the viewer is finally drawn into his world without requiring any of Jeunet’s sugary visual tricks. In other words, the director’s hand is gradually replaced by the imagination of a child genius. Another late highlight is Judy Davis with a snappily hilarious cameo as the museum’s undersecretary unperturbed by her chosen inventor’s real age. Her unexpected use of “Fuck!” also makes me wonder if I’d misjudged the film’s tone for those first two acts, instinctively assuming films about 10-year-olds are aimed at 10-year-olds.That’s not to say T.S. Spivet is in any way deep or on the same level as its protagonist’s advanced brain. One example of mangled dialogue comes through a voiceover: “The interesting thing about water is that they always take the path of least resistance. Humans are the opposite.” The real selling point is unquestionably the visuals, especially the 3D which magnifies the vivid dream sequences. I will admit at times I pointlessly took off my glasses because I couldn’t fathom how some of the shots could even look in 2D. What isn’t so advanced is basing these gorgeously coloured, layered shots around a child imitating how children imitate sitcoms. At least there’s an anti-gun message in there, somewhere.