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People Who Need People
In the World of 'Mister Lonely,' No One Is Too Odd, And There Is Always Something There to Connect Us

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 9, 2008

"Mister Lonely" makes you expect not just the unexpected, but the downright startling.

Which is why, for instance, we find ourselves contemplating -- increasingly without surprise -- sky-diving nuns sans parachutes, and the weirdest collection of zoned-out oddballs since Tod Browning's "Freaks," dressing up as Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Abraham Lincoln and even "Our Gang's" Buckwheat.

This alternative moviegoing experience comes courtesy of writer-director Harmony Korine, whose nonlinear, almost childlike visions of life have fireworked their way across the screen in films such as "Julien Donkey-Boy" and "Gummo."

While the latest film, which stars Samantha Morton and Diego Luna (one of the two boys in "Y Tu Mama Tambien"), is relatively coherent and user-friendly, compared with Korine's previous works, it still exudes his penchant for the strange, the out-there and even the disconcerting. But instead of feeling distanced from these characters and their one-of-a-kind situations, we are oddly drawn in. We know we're witnessing something not unlike a dream, in which the logic is not bound by waking convention so much as by the internal impulses of its maker.

Set in the contemporary human world in name only, the movie follows two plots, which never really come together, except in a thematic sense.

In the smaller plot, a missionary priest (played by German director Werner Herzog, a visionary filmmaker himself and a passionate fan of Korine's work) flies a group of nuns to an unidentified post in the jungle. And in the larger one, a disconsolate, lonely Michael Jackson impersonator (Luna) joins a commune of other celebrity imitators in the Scottish Highlands.

The unifying link? Our deep-seated need for connection, no matter how glorious or peculiar: the nuns for their supreme creator, the faux celebrities for the famous people they obsessively emulate. When one of the nuns accidentally falls out of the plane, she declares her faith in God as she free-falls toward the earth. Her faith proves to be very powerful. And when "Michael Jackson" joins that commune, he encounters a subworld of similar impersonators whose longing for their famous counterparts seems more psychotic than dramaturgical.

What makes "Mister Lonely" affecting is how Korine makes us see the humanity, not the weirdness, of those impersonators. Sure, they're buying into delusion, but they're so passionately committed, and so tender-spirited, we slowly buy in, too. Korine asks the viewer to find a spiritual road to everyone here, no matter how out-there the character seems initially. And he also asks us to be available to his unusual form of storytelling by switching off our colder, logical senses -- the left brain, if you will. A touching, elegiac allegory, it reaches us beyond intellect. And it's a chance to spend time with an artist whose stories unfold as if he's downloading his consciousness directly onto the screen.

Mister Lonely (108 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema) is not rated but contains sexual situations and profanity.

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