Word is mixed on “Mister Lonely,” former indie poster child Harmony Korine’s first theatrical release since 1999’s “Julien Donkey-Boy.” The film, which premiered at Cannes last year, stars Diego Luna as a Michael Jackson impersonator who ends up at a remote Scottish colony composed entirely of celebrity impersonators, among them Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton) and Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant). In an alternate storyline, Werner Herzog plays a priest presiding over skydiving nuns.
Most critics are just lukewarm,: Andrew Sarris at the New York Observer offers “the faint praise of Mister Lonely as the least offensive of the works in the Korine canon.” (He also notes that “David Blaine plays Father Umbrillo’s priestly subordinate. Lalid Afkir plays someone called Habid in the credits, and I am not sure if either is a celebrity.” Well, Mr. Sarris, the former is, if not famous, at least an Oprah-endorsed world record holder.) “Mister Lonely reveals that the punk abrasiveness of Korine’s youth has been replaced by a lyrical self-pity–the apparent upshot of a decade on the skids,” adds David Edelstein at New York. “I’m glad he has pulled himself together, but the film is pretty ramshackle.”
“Korine’s biggest challenge to an already skeptical audience is the movie’s sleeve-hearted sincerity,” suggests Jim Ridley at the Village Voice, who finds that the film, despite often failing, “yields moments of wonder.” The Onion AV Club‘s Noel Murray agrees, to an extent: “Mister Lonely has its moments of wonder and beauty, but the film is obscure by design, and meant to appeal to those who favor the alternative canon of directing greats.”
Less fond: Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly complains that “none of the faux icons comes close to being a character.” The New York Press‘ Armond White is, as is in character, not unsparing with one-time scenster prince Korine, who he calls “a zombie filmmaker” before running madcap in praise of Michael Jackson (particularly “exquisite ‘You Are Not Alone”) and dwelling on Samantha Morton’s “corpulent backside.”
More fond: Glenn Kenny at Premiere, who, as other have, finds “Mister Lonely” “Korine’s experiment in the extremes of bathos, even as the picture tries to propose itself as a comedy of sorts,” concludes that “that this is a picture that’s divided against itself in a way that’s perhaps too hermetic to be comprehended” and gives it three stars out of four. “[T]here will most likely be those who find his sensibility frustratingly hermetic, morbidly preoccupied with the poetry of compositions and camera movements and archly detached from the emotional currents of the story,” seconds A.O. Scott at the New York Times. “And yet ‘Mister Lonely,’ self-enclosed though it may be, nonetheless demonstrates that Mr. Korine, who showed his ability to shock and repel in earlier films, also has the power to touch, to unsettle and to charm.”
[Photo: “Mister Lonely,” IFC Films, 2007]