ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
Jim Carrey Goes Down Spooky Girlfriend Rabbit Hole
By Cole Smithey
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("Adaptation") takes the audience down a rabbit hole of his personal neurosis in this distressed story about a confused guy (Jim Carrey) who falls for a mean-spirited girl (Kate Winslet) before each of them attempt to have their respective memories of one other removed by an experimental psychiatrist.
Although some audiences are captivated by the now-familiar American stereotype of a condescending bipolar female character, it's Winslet's incarnation of Clementine as a mentally unstable manipulator of weakness that makes the movie icky. This chic has Bad Animal written all over her.
Poised as a romantic comedy, "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" is rarely funny. The sickening film disintegrates into utter abstraction during its overlong running time.
Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, and Tom Wilkinson give superfluous performances to Jim Carrey's honest effort at representing a dependent male character (read submissive) at the end of his rope. Director Michel Gondry ("Human Nature") attempts to channel Fellini and ends up irrigating faulty plumbing. He fails miserably, although he does know how to turn an audience's stomach.
Memory loss is the plot topic du jour. From "Memento" to "50 First Dates," it's an abused narrative hook that promises to keep audiences engaged in spite of their abilities to see through the overbearing plot device. But in the hands of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the subterfuge becomes a sponge that soaks up all intended drama and humor.
Joel (Carrey) is a lonely blue-collar guy who wonders if he shouldn't try to reunite with his former girlfriend Naomi because she was "nice." Unfortunately for Joel, and the audience, all thought of the never glimpsed Naomi is arrested by the intrusion of a life-destroying force named Clementine (Winslet). When Joel and Clementine first notice each other in a restaurant, Joel wonders to himself why he falls in love with every woman that shows him the least amount of attention. Hint, he's desperate. It's a revealing query because it lets the audience know that Joel recognizes his needy behavior and is struggling to overcome it. But he's no match for the wild-eyed gaze of Clementine Kruczynski, who sizes up her prey and moves in for the kill with glomming precision.
With dyed blue hair and barbed conversation Clementine flirts with Joel on a train headed for Montauk. Joel keeps his guard up against Clementine's ground rules for conversation but eventually succumbs to offering her a ride when he sees her walking away from the train station. In short order Clementine beds Joel with no pretense of mutual attraction before luring him out to the middle of a frozen lake that comes to represent the frozen emotional water that she will soon sink him in.
We're suddenly lunged forward to a time after Joel and Clementine have lived together long enough for her to so tire of his "boring" qualities. She has had all memory of him erased from her brain by a dubious psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). When the helpless Joel discovers Clementine's cruel disassociation he traces her course and enlists to have the same memory erasing done to rid himself of any recollection of her.
Joel is soon sat upon in his apartment by the doctor's trio of slacker technicians who begin a memory wiping process that enables the filmmakers to set up all sort of jarring imagery and dreamscape situations wherein Joel attempts to protect his memories of Clementine and preserve their painful relationship. The memory-wiping procedure is a major stumbling block for the film because there isn't a cohesive tone or comic rhythm to support the level of irreverent humor it implies. We're not in Woody Allen-land, but rather some sludgy and painful emotional nightmare with no light at the end of the tunnel.
If none of this sounds funny or interesting, that's because it isn't. The look of the film is maudlin and dark. By the time the audience is pulling for Joel to break free of the memory inquisition he's imposed on himself, we find ourselves questioning the sanity of every character in the movie, including Joel. I'm not saying you have to be crazy to identify with the wrongheaded characters in "Eternal Sunshine" but you have to be vested in the suffering of incompatible people. Forget that.
Rated R. 108 mins. (D+) (One Star)