Michel Gondry holds the distinctive cachet of a director like Wes Anderson. Everything he does is fraught with whimsy, and the characteristics of an auteur. Thus, it can be difficult for a fan to admit when Gondry has ventured too far out of his ordinary wheelhouse, which is the case with his latest film, Mood Indigo (or L'Écume des jours in French, meaning Froth on the Daydream, also the title of the Boris Vian novel on which it is based). Like The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind, Mood Indigo favors the fantastical in terms of special effects, layering them on much more thickly than the aforementioned films.
Gondry and co-writer Luc Bossi remain largely faithful to the premise of the book, which focuses on the affluent Colin (Romain Duris, of The Spanish Apartment and Russian Dolls). Colin's wealth mercifully keeps him from working, as he concentrates on more important things like playing a rare instrument, called the pianocktail, that makes cocktails while you play it. His friendship with Chick (Gad Elmaleh), a literary fanatic obsessed specifically with the works of Jean-Sol Partre (yes, a spoonerism for Jean-Paul Sartre--and how often do you get to use the word "spoonerism," by the way?), begins to shift when Chick meets a woman, Alise (Aïssa Maïga), with his shared passion for Partre.
Alise, who also happens to be the niece of Colin's servant, Nicolas (Omar Sy), helps nudge Colin toward the woman of his own fancy at a party. Chloé (Audrey Tautou, who, for some strange reason seems to be having trouble making a comeback), instantly allures Colin, though he feels tongue-tied and awkward upon their first encounter. Before going to the party, Colin specifically practices a dance to Duke Ellington's "Chloé." Incidentally, "Mood Indigo" is also the title of another Ellington song. Once the two start dancing together, their love is cemented, quickly leading to marriage and even more rapidly leading to Chloé contracting a strange illness while on their honeymoon. This illness involves a water lily growing inside of her, wreaking havoc on her lung. Colin goes bankrupt trying to give her the best medical care, only to lose her in the end anyway.
With a mood that shifts between light-hearted and utterly depressing, the severe contrast in tone doesn't quite carry off when viewing the movie as a whole. Of course, the cinematography, music and effects are what manages to salvage what the story lacks. As Gondry's seventh film, one would expect a bit more in the way of cohesion. However, it could be that adaptations are not what works for him. With Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as the benchmark for what he's capable of directorially, Mood Indigo falls noticeably short.