I did give this live-action/animated movie a chance for the festival’s sake, but my instincts proved correct when it devolved into a nonsense cartoon. Animation, mon œil!
The Congress has an interesting premise: that in the future, movie studios will own the essences of onscreen talent, an advancement that dispenses with temperamental divas and the horror of their aging.
Robin Wright plays herself -her actress self. In the opening scene her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) is castigating her for the “Bad Choices!” that have doomed her career. Conspicuously absent from his list is her choice of spouse (Sean Penn, whom she’s since divorced). These “Bad Choices!” mean she was at her peak when she starred in the classic The Princess Bride; now she’s old news.
Al’s harangue is a set-up: she has a chance to make a Good Choice. All she needs to do is sell her “essence” to Miramount Studios (Miramax? definitely referencing Paramount). They will scan her and make movies with her image for twenty years.
This is not the futuristic concept the movie wants us to believe. In the 1930s, Walt Disney filmed live actors whose movements were transferred to animation with a technology called Rotoscope.
Take a look at Snow White:
After she has been “scanned,” the movie jumps twenty years into the future. Wright looks like Grace Kelly as she drives in a convertible, her scarf glamorously flowing in the wind. Her face has some claymation latex to indicate she’s aged well.
A security guard in front of nothing warns her that she must see him before she can re-enter the real world (she never does). He wants to make sure she understands she is going into the animated world in order to attend The Congress. With his assent, it’s cartoon-time!
Animated Robin Wright goes to the Miramount Hotel. I think we’re supposed to assume that Miramount has become an evil multinational corporation in the intervening two decades.
As she enters the hotel lobby, she passes by an odd assortment of characters who evoke the Fleischer cartoon characters from the 1920s. An interesting nod to Paramount.
At the reception desk, she announces her name, and the receptionist replies that six Robin Wrights have already checked in. She says she’s Robin Wright, and that’s all that’s needed. Wouldn’t technology have progressed to the point that the pretenders would be identified? Were the other Robin Wrights given luxury suites?
On the way to her room, she passes a character that looks like Butthead –sans Beavis. Another clever nod to Paramount as they produced the series and movie. Heh, heh.
She speaks to the Miramount producer Jeff Green (Danny Houston), now a cartoon. He wants to extend her contract another twenty years. He points out that the only actor from her time with a viable career has also signed: “What’s His Name,” a cartoon character with a megawatt smile that looks a lot like Tom Cruise. Aha! Paramount!
But Miramount has even bigger ambitions than more Robin Wright movies. They plan to bottle her essence (How?) so that the public can literally consume her. Instead of envying her from afar, her fans can have what she has -even if they’re just going to excrete it later (I assume).
She is then summoned to the Futurist Congress of the Avrahama City. I have no idea what that means, apart from sussing out that it refers to the movie’s title. It looks like an Herbalife or Scientology convention.
She is led to a dais to address the horde before her. She urges them not to drink her. She warns them that they will never be able to leave the Avrahama City if they do. There is loud dissent, then the cult leader (who looks like Conan O’Brien – no connection to Paramount) is shot.
Dylan Truliner (voice of Jon Hamm) rescues her by putting bubbles around their heads. ??? He is a film editor who has been creating the movies with her “essence,” so he knows her.
We see a montage of those movies. They are live-action scenes; one has her as a cowgirl with a lasso riding a bomb as it is dropped à la Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove, a Paramount movie (via Columbia).
When she asks what happened to the unruly crowd, Dylan tells her “they have hallucinated themselves away.” to where?
So they go to New York City, which is all hanging gardens now. ???? He tells her they’ve all conquered their egos so there’s no competition, everyone is who they want to be. Whatever….
After they some cartoon sex (always creepy), they go out to dinner, where a cartoon character that looks a lot like Michael Jackson in his red Thriller jacket prepares lobster for them tableside. Thriller was produced by the label Epic, owned by Columbia, owned by Paramount.
Robin wants to find her son, who was going deaf twenty years before in the live-action part. He saw a doctor (Paul Giamatti) whose diagnosis was a creepy “he’s a harbinger of the future,” or something like that. He’s a sensitive boy who couldn’t handle the transition (I’m guessing), so she’s willing to leave the animated world and the soothing voice of Jon Hamm to find him.
She finds the same doctor to drink an ampule that will transport her to the filthy world where the live-action people who refuse to hallucinate live. He doesn’t seem very happy, but he’s not so unhappy that he would drink an ampule to leave. I’m with Dr. Baker; at least it’s clean where he is.
I did watch the whole movie, but that doesn’t mean I understood it.
Here are some of my unmentioned notes: killer bees, Dylan and Robin fly on backs of crickets, a weather forecast describes incomplete rainbows, she’s frozen, and a cartoon character that looks like Grace Jones from the 1980s (not affiliated with Paramount).
One shouldn’t need pharmaceutical assistance, legal or illegal, to understand, let alone enjoy, a movie, and I doubt that it would have helped.
I need an ampule to give me back the two hours of my life that this movie stole.
U.S., 2013, 122 min. Friday, November 14th at 9:45pm at the Tivoli