In the tourist trapped streets of Paris, a Michael Jackson impersonator (Luna) works for tips. His moves are solid and the scene is surreal as the fake MJ, clad in a yellow and black leather jacket, complete with sparkly gloves and the newer Jackson addition of a germaphobic face mask grabs his crotch, hooting and hollering in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Business is slow and luckily Michael’s day is saved as his boss sends him to perform at a convalescent hospital which actually manages to trump the Eiffel Tower scene in terms of surrealism. Soon Marilyn Monroe (Morton) shows up and away we go with “Mister Lonely,” the newest and by far most striking Harmony Korine film to date. And to say a new Korine film is his most striking is a pretty tall order considering the body of work he’s attached himself to thus far. Yet my words will never do justice to the strange, funny, sad and always audacious images Korine puts onscreen in the magnificent “Mister Lonely.” Having seen the film a number of days ago, the images I saw are still fresh in my mind and I mean that in a good way.
The basic plot follows Michael Jackson as he befriends Marilyn Monroe who convinces him to come to a castle where she lives in Scotland. Once there we see the castle is inhabited by a cavalcade of impersonators such as The Three Stooges, Abraham Lincoln, Sammy Davis Jr., James Dean and Marilyn’s husband and daughter, Charlie Chaplin and Shirley Temple. I know it sounds stupid and yes, it’s very strange but it’s also kind of beautiful, touching and extremely funny.
Shot on classic Super 35 mm “Mister Lonely” visually reminded me of the great insane epic films of the 1970’s like William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer” or Michael Cimino’s cautionary tale film “Heaven’s Gate.” I was also reminded of Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” or “Aguirre, The Wrath of God” but I think that might be because Herzog co-stars in the film as a priest. In any case, the use of Super 35 coupled with the imagery Korine throws onscreen literally had me catching my breath a few times as what I was seeing was clearly new but felt so classic and cinematic. Images of flying nuns and a crew of celebrity impersonators herding sheep will forever be branded on my brain. I mean, where in life will you ever see Abe Lincoln cursing out James Deen for letting a sheep get by him? There’s also several scenes of striking beauty coupled with extreme sadness that I would ruin if I wrote of them here. I’ll just say you have to see the film and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Morton as Monroe is uncannily perfect in her gestures and voice plus, she’s smoking hot as Marilyn. And it’s her role that carries the film as it soon becomes obvious that this castle inhabited by impersonators is a sort of “Never Never Land” where these people can be themselves without the pressures of normality. However events unfold that force reality onto the group affecting their acute Peter Pan Syndrome in ways that will leave them forever changed.
Having touched greatness with his film “Gummo,” Korine became kind of lost after his so-so follow-up “Julien Donkey Boy.” There were rumors of a film he was making where he went around getting his a*s kicked by New York bouncers but when that never materialized, people wondered if Korine would ever be heard from again. Well thankfully he’s back and better than ever. “Mister Lonely” is an incredible film filled with indelible iconographic images that show just how much Korine has grown and changed over the years as well as touch back to the sometimes startling, yet less fully realized images in his earlier works. While the wait for “Mister Lonely” was a long one, the film is damn near a masterpiece. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long to see what Korine will do next.