The latest offering from ‘Amelie’ director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is an adaptation of Reif Larsen’s 2009 bestseller ‘The Selected Works of TS Spivet’. It narrates the adventures of the ten-year-old boy genius of the title (likeable newcomer Kyle Catlett) after he absconds from his home in rural Montana to pursue a career in science. It looks lovely, deploying to full effect the visual style that Jeunet has spent his career polishing: sweeping landscape shots, stylised sets and costumes and digital colour manipulation (as in ‘Amelie’, red and green dominate). Yet this surface varnish hides a dearth of ideas.
The story echoes a noble lineage of stories that feature ingenious whizz-kid protagonists with vivid imaginations, stretching from Mark Twain and the ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ comics to Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’. But ‘TS Spivet’ has none of their dark humour or bite (something Jeunet’s early films like ‘Delicatessen’ featured in spades).
Instead, we’re treated to the stock characters and set-pieces of the kid caper movie – the bumbling policeman, the escape aboard a freight train – all delivered with heaps of twee sentimentality. In the final act, which sees Spivet gives a speech at the Smithsonian Institute before being reunited with his batty mother (Helena Bonham Carter, playing firmly within her comfort zone) on a TV talk show, the script morphs into an awkward lampoon of American showbiz and academe. As satire, it is too broad to keep older viewers entertained; presumably it will go over children’s heads too. Pretty, but disappointing.