Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Many, many years ago me and my cousin were at the video store and she insisted that we rent this movie ‘The Hotel New Hampshire’. I preferred that we rent something that involved horny teenagers getting brutally slaughtered but I reluctantly acquiesced. You see my cousin Heather has always been much more cosmopolitan and a far deeper thinker than yours truly, always identifying with the sophisticated Upper East Side patch on the elbow wearing crowd, despite the fact we’re both from St. Louis. I remember when we were just children and our mothers, who are sisters, gave us a couple of bucks to go the show. I suggested that we watch ‘The Wiz’, she insisted that we watch Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’. Of course ‘Manhattan’, as time would tell, was a far better film than the terminable ‘The Wiz’, but my God, I was ten and she was eight. What self respecting 8 year old wants to watch ‘Manhattan’ over a ‘Wizard of Oz’ remake featuring lots of colorfully dressed dancing Black People and Michael Jackson? But back to ‘The Hotel New Hampshire’. I didn’t get that movie. Admittedly I was just a teenager at the time and it would probably make all kinds of sense to me now, but back then I wish we would have just rented ‘Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’ and have been done with it. This movie ‘Mister Lonely’ has left me with a similar feeling some twenty five years later, a film that I’m sure my cousin, who is now a bonafide New Yorker, and like minded thinkers like her would marvel at the glory of Harmony Korine’s quirky little film. Myself however, now a bonafide Detroiter – notice our divergent paths – didn’t get it. At all. In the least.

Speaking of Michael Jackson, actor Diego Luna plays a Michael Jackson impersonator doing what he does on the streets of Paris and as he narrates the film we learn that he has some issues of self worth. While entertaining some residents at old folks home he runs into a Marilyn Monroe impersonator played by the always lovely Samantha Morton and the two strike up a conversation which leads to Marilyn informing Michael of this wonderful place that she lives in the Highlands of Scotland that is occupied by all kinds of impersonators, and she begs him to join her.

So it’s off to this castle in the Scottish Highlands where Michael joins Marilyn and her maniacal husband Charlie Chaplin (Dennis Lavant) and their cute daughter Shirley Temple (Esme Creed-Miles). Also at this lush castle estate are Abe Lincoln, The Queen, Buckwheat, Madonna, The Three Stooges, Little Red Riding Hood, Sammy Davis Jr., the Pope and James Dean. Together this crew raises sheep, builds a stage for their ‘big show’ and deal with their myriad of personal issues. Say like profane Abe’s anger issues or Buckwheat’s odd fascination with chickens and women’s breasts. But quite honestly, what kind of freak doesn’t like chicken and women’s breasts?  Who would really be the one with the problem there?

Interspersed throughout this chaos is a side story involving a priest played by noted director Werner Herzog and some sky diving nuns. What, if anything this has to do with the movie, I’m not nearly intelligent enough to figure out, but there they are. And that’s pretty much it, at least until the nihilistic conclusion at least.

For a film directed by a man named Harmony, after watching ‘Mister Lonely’ one must assume that this cat is experiencing anything but harmony in his life. While fully recognizing that the underlying themes that Mr. Korine was attempting to convey to his audience went completely over my head, the overlying theme seemed to be one of miserable despair and hopelessness. There is certainly a clash of ideas going on within this movie as on one hand it is brightly colored, has an off putting upbeat tone and is filled with quirky and interesting characters. But despite the brightness of the film and the singing painted chicken eggs, this is film that is filled with extreme disappointment, suicide and death. When one of the characters actually tells us that killing themselves is a valid life path, what’s one supposed to think? But then again I must stress that this is merely me seeing what’s on the surface of ‘Mister Lonely’ and that beyond the messages of misplaced faith, suicides, infected sheep, death and the worst stage show ever, there could be something more underneath. I just didn’t see it. And I own ‘Thriller’, even though I personally think that ‘Bad’ is a better record. Just letting you know I’m down with Michael.

Harmony Korine however is a very solid visualist and as a director has a definitive command over his camera and the images that he wants his audience to see. Diego Luna makes for a pretty good King of Pop impersonator, and Samantha Morton continues to provide solid performance after solid performance, and is certainly someone I wouldn’t imagine playing a variation of Marilyn Monroe, but as per usual she doesn’t disappoint. The actors all around were universally superb, particularly Richard Strange as the profane Abe Lincoln and somebody get that cute Shirley Temple kid on baloney commercial or something.

‘Mister Lonely’ was original, unique and far from dull, which is certainly saying something in this day and age of cinema, but nonetheless I do like to understand and comprehend the movies I watch. Silly me. Harmony Korine’s nihilistic tale may ring true with you however, just as I’m sure it rings true with my beloved cousin, who I am sure is sitting in New York somewhere discussing the subtle nuances of stuff that I could give less than a damn about.

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