Harmony Korine was an underground sensation in the late ’90s on the back of his screenplay for Larry Clark’s Kids, as well as his own provocative directorial efforts Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy. Re-emerging after a long battle with drugs, Korine has come up with a surreal, absurdist fantasy about fame and faith. It’s every bit as idiosyncratic as his earlier movies, but more obviously open-hearted and less given to sensationalism. All the same, Mister Lonely is not going to be for everyone.
For one thing, if you were casting around for a Michael Jackson lookalike, Mexican heartthrob Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También) wouldn’t be the first name that came to mind. But Korine has never been one to take the obvious route, and Luna is oddly affecting as an innocent moonwalker stranded on the wrong planet.
The story, such as it is, begins in Paris – with fellow absentee cult director Leos Carax playing Jacko’s psychiatrist – but quickly relocates to the Scottish Highlands at the invitation of ‘Marilyn Monroe’ (Samantha Morton). She’s found happiness on a commune with like-minded souls, among them HRH The Queen (Anita Pallenberg), Abraham Lincoln (Richard Strange), and her violently possessive boyfriend, Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant). Meanwhile, several thousand miles away in Panama, Father Umbrillo (Werner Herzog) is delivering food parcels with a group of flying nuns when they are visited by a miracle...
The Panama strand doesn’t connect with the plight of the lookalikes, and it’s easy to imagine it as a stand-alone short subject. But this wickedly funny parable does offer welcome counterpoint to the claustrophobic Scottish scenes. Although the strains and stresses of commune life are familiar enough, narrative takes a back seat to oddball characterisations and wacky-poetic sketches. Even so, Morton and Luna’s committed playing sneaks up on you. As a result, the film has a more sombre, poignant after taste than you might expect. Fingers crossed we won’t have to wait another eight years for Korine’s next missive...
Korine comes back strong with an affected but intermittently affecting curio featuring the pseudo-starriest line-up you'll ever see. Flying nuns on BMX bikes will be a leap of faith for many, but the wild black laughs keep things grounded.