The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. For those familiar with Jeunet’s movies, images of quirky and eccentric scenes will spring to mind. This film is no different, although it’s probably not as quirky as say, The City of Lost Children. Instead of giving you an analysis of the film before giving a verdict, I might as well come right out and say it – I loved The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet! It’s a beautiful little film, although I do find it a bit difficult to classify. Initially, I thought it was a “comedy” film for children but as the film progressed, I found that to be too simple a definition. Some of the issues that are dealt with here are a little more complex.
The story is about a young boy, T.S. Spivet, a child prodigy who invents a perpetual motion machine and is rewarded for his invention by the Smithsonian with the Baird Prize. Not knowing he is actually a 10 year old child, they invite him to accept his prize and to give a speech at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. And so our pint-sized hero sets out on his journey from his home in Coppertop Ranch in Montana to Washington, meeting some colorful characters along the way. In terms of plot, there really isn’t a whole lot to say. However, I watched this film not knowing anything about it other than the fact that Jeunet directed it, and not having read the book by Reif Larsen (although I’m planning to get my hands on a copy now) and I think my enjoyment of the film is all the better for it. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the movie as much if I knew some of the stuff that was going to happen. It is because of this that I am leaving out a major occurrence in the film, something that affects the way the title character feels, relates to others, and even condemns himself for, throughout the entire movie. If you really want to know what happened, just read any other review for this film as everyone else seems to think it is ok to write about it… probably because it’s not what happens in the film that makes or breaks this movie, it’s how the movie is played out. (Still, I prefer not to write what happened.)
All that may sound boring as not much happens but it’s the relationship Spivet has with the people around him, with his dysfunctional family members, his struggle with decisions, and his views of the adult world around him that make this an endearing movie. The film also works visually, in fact it is VERY much a visual film, from the colour schemes to the sets and the costumes, it all looks great. (There was a scene in which the boy sits in front of a plate with a fake piece of steak and two eggs. He moves the plate away and you see that the placemat the plate was resting on has an image of … a steak and two eggs, I LOVED that!) And the gorgeous cinematography and wonderful (mainly acoustic guitar) score by Denis Sanacore certainly helped the film.
Although filled with many characters, the two main characters in the film are Spivet and his mother. Spivet’s mother is played by Helena Bonham Carter, who fits perfectly in a quirky Jeunet movie. T.S. Spivet himself is played by Kyle Catlett, a young actor who is just right for this role, not too serious but not sugar-coating the film by being too “cute” either. He manages to draw you in to his character, and that is crucial as the entire movie is from his point of view (and he is hardly off-screen throughout the film). In fact, one gets the impression that in real life Kyle Catlett (the actor) and T.S. Spivet (the character) probably share many similar characteristics and personality.
In the end, if you are looking for an action-packed Hollywood blockbuster, skip this… but if you are in a mood for a gorgeously filmed, slightly melancholic, sometimes funny, quirky tale about a boy and his view of the world around him, this is a film I think you’ll enjoy. I certainly did. (You can find the film’s trailer below.)