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2004 Mini Reviews

Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Directed by: Michel Gondry
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst

Anyone who has seen Being John Malkovich or Adaptation knows what to expect from a Charlie Kaufman film -- that you can't reasonably predict how it will turn out, and that it will be like nothing you've seen before. Kaufman has already built a successful career around unusual premises, witty dialog, but also presenting true human drama in creative ways. Not only is he an original thinker, but he may very well be the most talented screenwriter working in Hollywood today. His latest venture, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is no different. Okay, actually it is very different, but that's the point.

Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is a quiet, bland, working class everyman who meets Clementine Kruczynski, who is eccentric, impulsive, and borderline neurotic. Joel is attracted to Clementine's outgoing facade, while Clementine is smitten by Joel's reluctant charm and gentlemanly behavior. A match made in Heaven? Not quite.

Eternal Sunshine is about Joel and Clementine's relationship -- well, the memory of that relationship at least. As it turns out, despite their feelings for each other, Joel and Clementine make each other miserable. This prompts them to undergo a procedure that will permanently erase each other's memories of the other. Joel discovers, in the midst of his erasure, that he still cherishes those moments, doesn't want to forget them, and fights the process inside his head.

This results in most of the movie taking place inside Joel's head. To many, such a premise might seem so outlandish and farfetched, "silly" even, that it lacks any entertainment value. The reality is that this unreality fits the audience comfortably. It also serves as an effective, although unlikely, vehicle to communicate the romanticism of the film. This is also where it derives most of its charm.

Both lead performers really capture the nuances of their characters, but Kate Winslet is especially captivating as the enigmatic Clementine. The quirkiness and instability she brings to her character is a perfect marriage to the quirkiness and instability that Kaufman brings to the script. Clementine is the perfect character for Winslet, and resultingly this is her personal best performance. We all too easily symphathise and even pity her, yet we long to see more of her.

Speaking of personal bests, Jim Carrey was quite good as well, and maybe now has finally proven that he can be a legitimate dramatic actor. The antics that take place inside his head seem perfect for his sense of humor, but they are subtle enough that the movie is not distracted by his trademark brand of humor. He also captures the sheepishness and the loserdom of his character. We can understand why Clementine likes him, but also why she gets bored with his humdrum personality.

The supporting performances also stand out and make this one of the better recent ensemble casts. Mark Ruffalo stands out the most as Stan, the nerdy memory hacker who apparently hasn't met a hairdresser he has liked. His performance, of all the big name supporting actors, is probably the furthest departure from type. Tom Wilkinson also does a fine job, and David Cross steals the few scenes where he appears.

One important detail that I have yet to mention is the director himself, Michel Gondry. He formerly worked with Kaufman on the poorly reviewed Human Nature, so many, including myself were skeptical. Luckily, Gondry does a fine job at capturing Kaufman's vision, and the cold palette he uses is perfect for this northern, Canadian setting. My only criticism of the film is that he seems to pull his punches towards the end when it comes to delivering Kaufman's script. He could have easily went with a much colder but thought provoking ending, and in fact the original screenplay did have one. Resultantly, the ending seems only halfway satisfying compared to the rest of the film, but it also is low on controversy that could potentially divide the audience. In fact, of all Kaufman's films, Eternal Sunshine is probably the most accessible.

Eternal Sunshine is a crowd-pleaser if Kaufman could ever write one. It's a pure permagrin movie, and with plenty of layers that can not only keep you interested while watching the movie, but it will get you thinking afterwards, whether it be in the car or at the water cooler, it will stick with you. Surprisingly considering the premise, Eternal Sunshine it is the least forgettable film of this early year.

Score: 8/10