Review: Jumbo (Sundance 2020)

Title: Jumbo
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: Zoe Wittock
Starring: Noemie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon
Runtime: 1 hr 33 mins

What It Is: A young, quiet woman named Jeanne (Merlant) who lives with her rambunctious mother (Bercot) is hired at an amusement park to help with maintenance. Amusement rides are her passion; one night she sneaks about to admire the newest attraction she calls “Jumbo” when she finds it becomes deeply responsive to her intimate advances.

What We Think: Matt Neglia can vouch for me. I guess what we were sort of expecting was a fun, kooky French movie about a paraphilia. What we got was kind of that… at least at first. I was really loving it, this sort of The Shape of Water dynamic leading from the magic-reality arrived by the tone of the film to the wondrous technical aspects (the gorgeous and colorful cinematography and framing around Jumbo in particular), and the whimsical (if not at times completely overbearing score). You’re pretty much vouching for this woman and this attraction to fall in love and study the off-kilter romantics of it… and of course it’s weird. It gets real oily real quick.

But, and it’s a big but, the story is all over the place. It gets away with itself, depending too much on us to expect it to treat it seriously as a romance-type with a whimsical edge. It would be almost campy had it not taken itself so seriously: the longer our protagonist divulges in the idea that Jumbo is alive and that they are in love, the more and more the film felt like a serious coming-out-esque movie. I felt like I’ve already seen this drama before, but it doesn’t apply to this situation as well as is needed. Certain things in line with the characters, their mental states, and their backgrounds. How the protagonist’s mother and her partner acts don’t necessarily line up with what might happen in reality, especially having to raise a girl like Jeanne (a very kinetic, naive person with an addictive and focused personality constantly falling into radical escapism). The characters just make some very odd if not very contrived decisions, namely at the end.

Our Grade: C, While Jumbo had a head start with a double-take-insighting subject with massive potential, a lively cast, and lovely, glowing visuals, the film soon lost traction and memorability; it just didn’t end with the same humor and electricity and the impact that it began with.

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Chai Simone Written by: