THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP written and directed by Michel Gondry, with Gael García Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg. 106 minutes. A Warner Independent release. Opens Friday (September 22). For venues and times, see Movies, page 105. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
Michel Gondry attracts fans the way a joystick draws sweaty palms. He is the geek ascendant.
That sensibility works in his music videos, which spring from a fantastic, preadolescent imagination. And it's worked in his two feature films, which depend on the prickly adult spine of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. But The Science Of Sleep is Gondry's first fiction feature without Kaufman, and the first to draw on his own script. It must give Kaufman a little glow to know how much he's missed.
Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind might be madcap, but their antics were exaggerated eruptions of grown-up anxieties. The Science Of Sleep plays like a night's worth of dreams recounted before precocious little Michel is fully awake.
Gael García Bernal plays make-believe TV in his own studio made of cardboard. Then he meets Charlotte Gainsbourg, whose character has almost the same name as his - he's Stèphane, she's Stephanie. Then the two of them play lots of funny games and drive around Paris in his cardboard car. And then they fall in love - but not really, cuz love is icky.
Unmoored from Kaufman's wit and rigorous structure, Gondry pokes the love story forward as if it were conceived by a hyperactive boy. It's both implausible and asexual, which is odd because both Bernal and Gainsbourg can exude sex without trying. There's also something slightly creepy about characters being moved around the playhouse plot like toy figures.
And yet the film will have its fans. Bernal's impersonation of a half-French manchild is charming, and it's hard to hate a movie that uses cellophane for water. New surprises pop up constantly, sometimes live action, sometimes animated in stop-motion. But there's no narrative glue to hold it all together. It's a cacophony of "what if they did this?" scenes without even a dream logic to help it cohere.
There are a couple of factors The Science Of Sleep can depend on as it meets its audience, though: fanboys won't be dissuaded by reviews like this one, and drugs might help.