By William Shelton
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amélie” is about a young woman who, as a child, was raised in near total isolation from children her age. This lead to her, as an adult, living a life of solitude but wishing for more out of life. One day she finds a hidden collection of old trinkets in her apartment and decides to find their original owner and return them. Upon seeing the now old man’s joy upon reconnecting with his childhood memorabilia, Amélie decided to become a regular “do-gooder” and try and make as many people happy as she can. While on this quest she soon meets (or more accurately, she sees) a young man and falls in love with him, even though she hasn’t actually spoken to him. Luckily for her, he soon drops a booklet of pictures he has been collecting and she finds an excuse to talk to him, but her lonely upbringing makes her to shy to just give it too him. Instead she continues her game of trying to make people happy while making he perspective lover jump through a ridiculous amount of hoops in order to not only get his book back but also to learn who she is and how she feels.
Amelie is one of the oddest and most annoying lead characters in recent film history. While it’s easy to understand and sympathies with the shy introvert at first, by the mid point of the film her antics are more akin to something The Riddler would pull. When she first starts trying to make people happy all she does is call the guy from across the street after leave the item next to the payphone where she left his old toys. But when she finally manages to give her new found love back his book, she puts him through a ridiculously over complicated scenario, forcing him to a specific point only to have him go back to where he started. These are not the actions of an introvert nor are they the action of a shy girl who doesn’t want to confront her feelings: this is the kind of things people do when they want to mess with peoples heads. To see further proof that Amélie just likes messing with people, look how she treats the poor guy once he finally comes face to face with her. She leaves him a note telling him to be at her cafe at a certain time, then still refuses to talk to him upon his arrival. Instead, she has a coworker slip him a note, then she gets sad when she thinks he mistook her note for something her coworker wrote.
While the title character is somewhat hard to put up with, the film’s not totally without merit. One scene near the mid point of the film, where a rude shop keeper is rather great, and the clear highlight of the film. The film becomes more subjective here than it is throughout the film, giving the viewer a much a clearer scene of what the shop keeper is feeling. The scene ends with him aiming to call his mother, but instead calls a psych word. The close ups and odd angles really give this scene a sense of unease which helps it stand out from the rest of the film. The unfortunate thing is, there’s just too little of it. While there are a number of odd scenes throughout the film (like people in pictures talking to some one in real life, or pictures of the same person having an argument with themselves), it ironically feels like avant garde by the numbers.
While the film starts as a “fun” film about the importance of being kind to others, it almost seems more interested in telling people to stay out of other people lives. Most of the people that Amelie “helps” ends up upset or anger and all together worse off than they were before her help. For example there is man who frequents her cafe in order to stalk an old girl friend of his. Amelie ends up seting him up with a coworker, a shy and germphobic woman. While the two do end up hitting it off (leading to a pretty hilarious sex scene), the stalker soon then terns his predatory gaze from his old girlfriend to his new one, and she ends up having a break down over it. Nothing is learned, nothing gained and that’s true for nearly every one she interacts with. The one time she does manage to make some one truly happy, it is based off a lie. And even when she meets with the man she’s fallen for, they have sex once and the view is meant to think this romantic, but there no emotional depth to any of it due to the fact that they never actually speak to each other.
Amelie is not an all together awful film, but it is a worthless one. There is nothing here that hasn’t been done before and done better. It’s not sleezy enough to be fun on an visceral level, it’s not deep enough to really engage the viewer on an emotional level and it’s not odd enough to view for the sake of simply see it. It does do just enough right to not be hatable, but not nearly enough to stop it from being overlong and dull.
My Grade: 20/20