Staring: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Danny Huston, Sami Gayle, Michael Stahl-David, Paul Giamatti
Directed by: Ari Folman
Written By: Ari Folman
Rating: Unrated (US) Running Time: 2 hr 2 min
No, this isn’t a hard-hitting drama about the ineptitude of the US government, but a psychedelic indictment of the entertainment industry. I think. It could be a statement about society’s increased dependence on brain medications. Or even a more personal journey for Robin Wright as an actress in her 40’s, struggling to find work in a youth obsessed film industry. Or, all the above. To be honest, I’m not sure what The Congress is.
During the first act I had a handle on things. Robin Wright, playing a version of herself, accepting an offer from Miramount (Miramax/Paramount) to have her likeness scanned for the studio’s future film and TV productions. Which was an interesting premise, and it had me hooked, especially during the scanning procedure. But then, with little warning at all, the story shoots forward twenty years, and the movie becomes a trippy combination of Yellow Submarine, and a Betty Boop cartoon.
At this point, story structure is pretty much thrown out the window. A plot line about Robin’s son, and a medical condition that will rob him of sight and hearing, becomes scattered throughout this animated segment. Like a memory floating into focus, only to be lost again. At the same time, a love story emerges amid the brightly animated wonderland, as Robin finds a man called Dylan (Jon Hamm), who claims to have worked with her digital likeness for the last twenty years. But that story becomes less important, once the plot gets back to thinking about Robin’s son.
If The Congress is trying to ‘say’ something, then it’s going about it in a very strange way. The opening is very strong, and Robin Wright and Harvey Keitel are excellent. What follows is not so much unique, as it is an uncommon method with which to tell a story, and for me it just didn’t work. Once the novelty of the switch to animation past, I started to look for some logic in this story telling choice. When that wasn’t forthcoming, my patience started to wear thin. The movie makes fantastical leaps in style, and the story’s time line, and almost rudely abandons an awesome first act in favor of the bizarre. The moment it returns to live action footage is a powerful one, but it wasn’t enough to reengage my enthusiasm for this production.
If you enjoyed movies like the Beetle’s Yellow Submarine, there’s a chance you might enjoy this too. If you enjoy odd productions that mix genres and styles, and are okay watching a movie without a strictly structured narrative, then this movie might work for you. The movie is unrated in the US, but if it were, my guess would be – R. For adult situations and drug use.
Michal Englert’s cinematography is stunning, so a theater sized screen would bring out the best in this film. At home a HD viewing on your TV is recommended. You’ll miss details if you watch this on anything hand-held.
I loved the scene where Robin is scanned. She’s surrounded by a dome of bright lights, and is having trouble following the directions as the lights flash and record her expressions. Her long time friend and agent Al (Harvey Keitel) tells her the story about how he became an agent. As the story unfolds, first humorously, and then increasingly more personal, Robin is able to run through the range of emotions required for the scanning. There was something so twisted about this scene. That juxtaposition of genuine emotion being recorded by the unfeeling computer, as the lights flashed and cameras recorded every moment. It was really powerful, and at the end of the scene, Robin was crying, Al was crying, and so was I!