Romantic comedies by definition are supposed to be `feel good'. Girl loses boy, girl wins boy back by some improbable twist of fate or unlikely coincidence that only happens in the movies and audiences share and dwell vicariously in the whole `feel goodness' of it all. As a `romantic comedy' Michel Gondry's latest really is a bit odd. The `comedy' box has been firmly ticked and so has the box labelled `bittersweet love story', but by definition of romantic comedies The Science Of Sleep most certainly is not. If you've seen any of Gondry's music video (The White Stripes) output over recent years or checked out the strange but engaging `Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind', then you may perhaps have a slight advantage over the person next to you, who, well, erm... hasn't seen them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, as a movie directed by a Gallic film-maker, the comedy of Science is very very French (albeit French humour able to laugh heartily at fart jokes), has a casual indifference to sex and is more than a little warped. The ever versatile Gael Garcia Bernal is Stephane, a shy and awkward graphic artist, who comes to stay with his mother and work as a Calendar Designer following the death of his father. For reasons not best explained Stephane is prone to nodding off unannounced and whilst dreaming, regularly broadcasts television shows (perhaps the stuff of his subconscious). The dream like architecture melds felt, cardboard, cellophane and a hefty portion of surrealism together into a world that eventually becomes hard to distinguish from his waking life. To make matters worse he's fallen in love with his creative and equally kooky neighbour Stephanie (a scruffy yet sultry Charlotte Gainsborough).
It's best to go in The Science Of Sleep with few preconceptions or a desire to work out exactly what's going on. Although it's clear that Gondry is meditating on acceptance, rejection and ultimately love (however fruitless), his patchwork quilt of a movie often appears contrived and a little too clever clever for its own good. There are moments in here that work wonderfully well (the cardboard car chase, felt skiing and the 1 second time machine) and others that are jarring or just simply grate. The Science Of Sleep is a delight to look at, blending in-camera trickery with stop motion puppetry, Gondry's imagination shows no bounds. But by working from his own script he tends to drift toward self-indulgence.
Imaginative, sweetly romantic, frantic and twisted: The Science of Sleep won't be everyone's favourite blend of tea. As a means to seeing something artful, odd and strangely unique, this bonkers tale is like that jolly jaunt through a ramshackle town compared to the uber cool gleam of the big city cinema-scape and is all the better for it.