Jumbo – VIFF 2020 Review

“One day I’ll fly away from here,” says Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) to her boss, while on one of the most awkward dates in a film that is literally chock full of awkward dates, awful engagements, uncomfortable trysts and slews of cringey social, uhh, intercourse, in Zoé Wittock’s oddball romance, Jumbo. This is a film that comes customfit for the festival circuit, and with its loopy premise about a naive manic pixie dream girl who falls in love with a tilt-a-whirl (yes, you’re reading that correctly) it also seems destined for some kind of cult status. Maybe. But the sad truth is that, despite the requisite joie de vivre, this is a midway attraction that comes down rather quick with little of the sudden excitement you expect at an amusement park.

Merlant, who was absolutely outstanding in last year’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, here gets to channel her inner Audrey Tatou, which is to say she gets to be the aforementioned MPDG, with extra helpings of adorable, and even a pixie bob cut, but here, as Jeanne, instead of embracing any of the soulful young men (or women) in the cast, she ends up head-over-heels with the new thrill ride at the amusement park she works at. Merlant is too good for this film, but she gives it her all anyway. It might have made for a wonderful and winsome short film, but at a protracted 93 minutes it definitely loses most of its momentum.

For a first time feature, Wittock doesn’t entirely disappoint. She certainly takes an ambitious idea and animates it with some creative, kaleidoscopic flourishes and flashing lights and even comes through, at least partially, on the promise of varied romantic moods, and a rich array of comic and occasionally nuanced tendencies. Jeanne’s mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), for instance, brightens almost every scene she inhabits, bringing humor and occasional hubris. And Margarette’s initially crabby and impartial love interest Hubert (Sam Louwyck) later proves to be the most tolerant, socially progressive and begrudgingly sweetest man in the movie.

Early on in Jeanne’s relationship with the tilt-a-whirl, whom she christens “Jumbo”, she goes public with her wackadoodle romance, one that’s at least partially elucidated owing to her fascination with carousels, her sheltered home life, and the fact that all the men in her orbit are all boors or just plain boring. Unsurprisingly, Jeanne’s mother and co-workers think her love affair with Jumbo is a bit fucking much. Well, they aren’t wrong, despite some dreamy artful scenes of Jeanne and Jumbo’s emotional abandon and passion, which includes a sex scene that strives for seansuality, somewhat stymmied by floundering formalism and the fact that there isn’t much chemistry on screen to speak of.

The dictum about Shakespearean comedies almost always ending in marriage holds bizarrely true here and while there’s little else in Jumbo to invoke the Bard, apart from some fanciful reflections on young love, Jumbo doesn’t truly offend as its visions doth appear and its idle themes show their gossamer-like flimsiness. And maybe that’s the real rub. Why didn’t Jumbo try to offend, or shock? Instead it fails to make amends ere long and the audience is left to feel the same as those who stood in line at Jeanne’s amusement park; waiting to be tilted and whirled by Jumbo, instead we’re taken for a slow ride to nowhere.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.