Reinventing Marvin Review
Growing up is difficult. Growing up when you are perceived as different due to your sexuality is even more so, especially if you lack any kind of firm emotional support as you navigate that kind of self-discovery. Such a personal journey is the basis for Reinventing Marvin from French director Anne Fontaine, who previously brought us The Innocents, Adore, and Coco Before Chanel.
Living in a small French village, young Marvin Bijou (Jules Porier) lives a lonely early adolescence as he struggles to understand his growing attraction to other boys whilst dealing with bullying and a hectic family life. He finds a potential escape when a teacher encourages him to try drama. Years later Marvin (Finnegan Oldfield) takes acting classes and attempts to process his past by using it to fuel the basis for his future.
This film is a double layer melancholic coming of age story. On one level you have the younger Marvin dealing with some truly difficult situations, and on the other older Marvin looking back as he develops a one-man show based on his childhood. Seeking advice from an older gay couple who appear to have become surrogate parents for him, and going through his first real experience of a homosexual relationship. It is a film that also speaks to the power of art as a form of self-expression to process one’s personal tragedies and it leading to a defining of self on one’s own terms.
A particular power of this film is the way that the childhood sections really tap into the feelings of loneliness and confusion of emerging sexuality. Marvin's family are a barely together piece and constantly argue, not something to give real care or support. School is even worse. He suffers horrifying abuse at the hands of boys at school who force him to perform various sexual acts whilst calling him as many derogatory names as possible, and yet at the same time Marvin watches those same boys and many others at the pool with interest.
But because he has nobody to confide in, everything Marvin feels ends up turning inward, leaving him a numb and passive observer of his own life and it really is both fascinating and heartbreaking to see young actor Jules Porier show this. It is only when Marvin is encouraged to try acting that he has an outlet for his emotions and is actually able to express himself and come out of his shell of apathy. A scene where he begins drama class - after a teacher’s insistence - and is asked to improvise something, launches into a dramatic retelling of an earlier argument at home over dinner is the most that we have heard him talk in the film so far. It’s also the moment that pushes him onto a different path that ends with him becoming the older Marvin - now portrayed by Finnegan Oldfield.
As Marvin works on his show, looking back on his personal experiences as a basis, he begins to learn - through his friendship with older couple Abel (Vincent Macaigne) and Pierre (Sharif Andoura) and his relationship with Roland (Charles Berling) - what it is that he might want going forward in life. Isabelle Huppert then turns up for a few scenes to be something of a mentor for him and an ally in his eventual stage show. It is a little distracting to have such a well-known figure of French cinema show up, but it does serve as a later more maternal figure in Marvin’s life following the teacher that encourages his acting as a child.
At its core Reinventing Marvin is a heart-stirring tale of identity and self, but it would have been just a bit more effective if it had been a bit more economical with its time.