After an eight-year hibernation from feature films, writer/director Harmony Korine, christened “the future of American cinema” by Werner Herzog, has finally finished his third film, Mister Lonely.
Heaven, I’m In Heaven
Mister Lonely begins with the introduction of our main character, Michael Jackson (Diego Luna). Well, not the real Michael Jackson, but rather an impersonator living in France who does retirement-home gigs to make ends meet. It is there that he meets a fellow impersonator who has been hired to cheer up the elderly; a lovely woman who masquerades as Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton).
Their mutual feelings about the importance of being someone else immediately bond them, and she invites him to stay at her commune in Scotland along with her husband, Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant), her daughter Sherly Temple, and about a dozen other impersonators. Their community includes such mimicked celebrities as Abraham Lincoln, James Dean, the Pope, Madonna, and the Queen of England.
As Michael and Marilyn boat up to the gorgeous castle where the group live together, Michael is welcomed with fireworks, singing, and dancing as he’s initiated to their society. They live in harmony, interacting with each other as their icon personalities deem necessary, collectively embracing their talents and devotion to one another’s character.
Interweaved with the commune of celebrities is a story about a troupe of skydiving nuns who, after one of them accidentally falls from a plane and survives the impact without a scratch, decide to jump together from the sky without parachutes. Convinced that as they leap from the plane (piloted hilariously by Werner Herzog), their prayers to God will help them endure the collision with the Earth. This side-story, which was filmed in Brazil, is an extraordinary tale that doesn’t necessarily have a joyful twist ending, but in conception turns out to be quite beautiful.
Identity and Happiness
Mister Lonely is entertaining; Korine definitely took advantage of the quirky situations arising between historical “celebrities,” which are sometimes thought-provoking and sometimes played for laughs. While the Three Stooges work on painting a barn, Abe Lincoln circles them riding a lawn mower and shouts obscenities at them; we watch Buckwheat give the Pope a bath in the middle of a forest while his holiness weeps for being too smelly; Michael Jackson and Charlie Chaplin engage in ping-pong matches that end with Chaplin gloating about his skills; Sammy Davis Jr. breathes fire.
But at the heart of this film lies the search for identity and happiness. We watch the inner battle of our characters as they play legends. The glory of fame isn’t what they are searching for; making other people appreciate their own lives is the significance of being an impersonator. Ultimately, the philosophy implodes on itself and our characters are forced to take separate paths; some turning out happy, while others are left heartbroken.
Harmony Korine has come a long way since Kids, but in keeping with his style of clever irony and dark beauty, it may look like he has taken a more serious turn with this latest opus. Mister Lonely seems like an almost perfect addition to Korine’s filmography, and should no doubt assert him as a matured filmmaker.