Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Potential Films/Madman Films

It's not easy being the smartest person in the room, and even less so when you're only 10 years old. But T.S. Spivet isn't just weighed down by the size of his considerable brain; he's also burdened by grief at the loss of his twin brother, and the guilt that comes with feeling responsible for his sibling's death.

Heavy subject matter for what is essentially a children's film, French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's adaptation of Reif Larsen's novel The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, is as brightly coloured and whimsical as his more recent films (Amelie (2001), A Very Long Engagement (2004), Micmacs (2009)) without ever talking down to its intended young audience.

T.S. (Kyle Catlett) lives in Montana with his rancher father (Callum Keith Rennie), entomologist mother (Helena Bonham Carter, refreshingly quirk-free), and big sister Gracie (Niamh Wilson), as well as the ghost -- metaphorical rather than literal -- of brother Layton (Jakob Davies), who died in a shooting accident in the barn which nobody talks about but which T.S., who was also in the barn that fateful day, can not forget. Nor forgive.

His mother has since retreated into her work (the study of bugs), while his father, already the silent, stoic archetype of a Montana rancher, is even more withdrawn: Layton was the apple of his father's eye and the hands-on round-the-farm yin to T.S.'s intellectual head-in-the-clouds yang.

It's when T.S. is selected to receive a prestigious prize from the Smithsonian Institute -- for his invention, sorry, his plans for the invention of a perpetual motion machine -- that he decides to abandon his family: perhaps his absence will allow his family to heal much faster? T.S. sneaks out in the early morn, hopping the rails cross-country to the nation's capital.

The American scenery is stunningly captured by Thomas Hardmeier's cinematography as T.S. journeys east, lending the landscapes a storybook palette which is further enhanced by the use of 3D, a first for a Jeunet film. And while the Frenchman's outsider view looks romantically at America's bountiful plains, he's a little less kind to that nation's obsession with fame, the dumbing down of science and dismissal of dreamers, and lax gun control.

This, and themes of grief and guilt, may concern some parents but it's the delivery of some f-bombs (thank you, Judy Davis, as the Smithsonian's duplicitous press secretary) in the film's third act which has no doubt seen the family-friendly The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivet slapped with an M-rating instead of a more appropriate PG.

Unlike T.S. himself, the parentals are best not to let their kids undergo this journey on their own, but they could do a lot worse than have them enjoy the company of a smart, sensitive young hero whose brain is his superpower and who discovers, like so many adventurers before him, that home is where the heart is.

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