In the fanciful universes imagined by Michel Gondry, conventional obstacles to love, like physical separation or a third party, are not sufficient — try erased memories (Eternal Sunshine) and apeman body hair (Human Nature).
His latest, about a young tinkerer (Gael Garcia Bernal) new to Paris who courts his neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is typically tricked out with patchwork whimsy and unannounced jaunts through off-center dreamlands, Pee-wee’s Playhouse meets some late Sixties pseudo-reality like Agnès Varda’s The Creatures. Untethered by past screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s rigorous conceits (and if Kaufman was the one keeping you grounded...), Science is a peculiarly nervous film, embracing the insecurity and immaturity of Bernal’s twitchy character, Stephane. As such it’s the latest entry in the booming romantic tradition of childlike solipsism, which presents emotionally stunted man-kids as eagerly as past generations churned out child-wives. Stephane literally hosts a TV show in his mind, in one of the movie’s most telling inventions (the funniest one is his one-second time machine).
Gainsbourg (as, sigh, Stephanie) is touching, partly because she’s the one mostly sane and real voice, engaging us while Bernal runs around the room. But Gondry’s intimations of autobiography cast Bernal’s performance in another light: unless you’re into the distraction, Stephane’s noodlings can be ADHD insufferable — which makes the movie a hilarious confession. To wit: the visual invention is impressive and a vital contribution (except when his doubling back to handmade forms has inadvertently simplistic results). But then there’s that one terrible moment when Stephanie, opening up to the little dynamo one more time, faces a near-autistic ignorance of her emotional state. Opens September 22