The Science of Sleep, Oct. 06

BY NEIL FAUERSO

Michel Gondry is a very frustrating guy. In moments of The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and his remarkable music videos, he emits a wondrous visual flair, a perfect synthesis of concept and visual execution. But most of the time, he’s a flake.

In The Science of Sleep he regurgitates his increasingly wincing gimmick: mix equal parts melancholic, syrupy, unrequited love, quirky humor, impressive and organic visual flair, and a trippy narrative structure, and voila, a guaranteed critical darling. The Science of Sleep is certainly original and fun, but ultimately there’s very little to it. It’s too slight and self-knowing to be truly grand surrealism, and too dodgy to be a real movie.

Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) has an unreliable grip on reality. Basically, he can’t tell when he’s awake and when he’s in one of his elaborate dreams where he runs his own TV show (on a cardboard set), swims in cellophane water, and mixes his dreams as if cooking pasta. Stephane has moved from Mexico into his mother’s empty Paris apartment and takes a boring job assembling calendars. When Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a pretty high-cheeked woman, moves into the unit next door, Stephane falls in love, but his romantic attempts become increasingly misguided and muddled as the waking/ dreaming worlds blur.

And that’s it. The entire movie is just dreaming and waking. I’m by no means someone who demands a three-act structure, but when a movie is this cutesy and hip and yet so meandering, it feels more aimless than eccentric.

There are some lovely things. Bernal, one of the most appealing young actors around, is both charming and disconcerting. Gainsbourg is understated and natural and the supporting cast, especially Alain Chabat as Stephane’s boorish co-worker, are goofy and fun. Gondry has a very competent eye and his visuals are genuinely fanciful and clever.
But, in the end, The Science of Sleep disappoints. One is left with a mildly diverting movie, wondering when Gondry will do something meaningful. B-