Perhaps just as great a cliche as the indie that takes itself way too seriously is the indie romance full of way too much fantastical whimsy. The director of “Mood Indigo,” Michel Gondry, is one of the pioneers of this style of 21st Century filmmaking with his film “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind,” an enduring masterpiece of the 2000s. While he may never recapture the magic of that film, Gondry has returned to his roots in France to adapt a French classic with a story so silly and inventive that it just begs to be liked. “Mood Indigo” unfortunately teeters on charming and insufferable and can’t find solid footing up in the clouds.
“Mood Indigo” is based on a novel by Boris Vian, but this is Gondry’s world, one in which every mundane object in existence has been transformed into a mechanical cartoon of unnecessary complexity and charming artificiality. Telephone operators work on conveyer belts sending messages on typewriters, pet mice are actually tiny people dressed in costumes scurrying around tubing throughout a house, cooks fight to grab eels out of pipes and reach through TVs to add an extra pinch of salt, and our protagonist has invented a piano that makes cocktails based on the melody you perform.
Unlike Wes Anderson’s momentary punchlines in diorama form, Gondry’s visual fantasy takes the form of momentary distractions in the background to just obligatory things that get you through the day. And Wes Anderson’s characters all approach the gizmos within his imagination with detached, deadpan self-awareness. Gondry’s stretch out their legs to funhouse mirror size and dance to the whimsical rhythm of the movie. They smile and float through the world without a care or a problem, and it’s amazing that ideas like sex, politics and philosophy can even enter into a world so childlike.
“Mood Indigo” has us rooting for the love of Colin and Chloe (Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou). He’s a hapless layabout who hasn’t worked a day in his life due to enormous wealth and someone who literally falls to pieces talking to whimsical dream girls. She’s a bubbly confection with schoolgirl outfits and a sense of curiosity that can’t be tamed.
Fans of Tautou’s “Amelie” will be pleased to know that she’s essentially revived that character, but without some of that film’s dark quirks. “Mood Indigo” rather is all too precocious, and their romance is only one to admire because their effortlessly cute chemistry quite literally provides the movie space and color.
Before long Chloe turns sick and Colin is forced to take a job to pay for her medical bills. Her affliction is that she has a flower growing next to her heart, and you wonder why even this moment had to be mired in ridiculous whimsy. And like a balloon that’s been slowly deflated, “Mood Indigo” becomes pitiful and sad when it starts trying to introduce tragedy and conflict into this fairy tale. It’s a colorful storybook made grim and tedious simply because of how many colors and ideas are jammed in.
2 1/2 stars