Whether he’s establishing a distinguishing groove or simply delivering a fluky bolt of sweetness from a cloud in quirkville, writer-director Harmony Korine creates charming, luminous, time-capsule-worthy moments in “Mister Lonely,” a tale centering on two celebrity impersonators.
You just wish that the total of this movie were as affecting and transformative as the stellar bits are.
Korine, who wrote Larry Clark’s “Kids” and wrote and directed the less accessible “Gummo” and “Julien Donkey-Boy,” takes a gentle, friendly route with this dramedy co-written with Avi Korine. Despite its off-kilter nature, it contains some basics — three main plot points, a display of post-journey growth by its primary protagonist.
But its whimsy, conveyed mostly through imagery, is fresh and distinctive.
A Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) and a Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton) copycat meet in Paris, quickly bond and arrive at the Scotland commune “Marilyn” shares with husband “Charlie Chaplin” (Denis Lavant), and impersonators ranging from “Abe Lincoln” to “Madonna.”
Here, the faux celebrities play table tennis, take mud baths and display facets of Peter Pan syndrome. The sheep contract a grim condition, and the people put on a show.
Meanwhile, in a second story line, Werner Herzog portrays a priest who pilots a food-drop plane in Central America. Without parachutes, nuns fly.
Korine displays a winning feel for the eccentric and creates wonderful visions. The image of a Jackson impersonator riding a bike with a toy monkey beautifully radiates loneliness. The sight of blue nuns floating in the sky is oddball-marvelous.
Yet such marvels are stand-alone experiences, and the space connecting them is often drab. While the film is easy to feel affection for, it frustratingly fails to realize its potential for overall magic.
A lack of dramatic current and multidimensional characters undermines the ability of the story to jell. When not serving as sight bytes, a la “Buckwheat” riding a pony, the characters aren’t interesting. Korine doesn’t explore the celebrity-impersonator psyche. A pair of tragedies don’t resonate.
The apparent message — have faith, dump the parachute or the celebrity guise, and soar — is hardly profound.
The performances, more brightly, jibe with Korine’s appealing tone. Convincingly gentle and innocent, Luna’s Michael allows us to forget recent headlines when we process Korine’s fairy-tale presentation of the pop star’s persona of earlier times. Morton, as a fellow sensitive soul, is exquisite.
Mister Lonely (2 and a half stars)
Starring Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, Denis Lavant, Werner Herzog
Written by Harmony Korine, Avi Korine
Directed by Harmony Korine
Running time 1 hour 52 minutes