Premises don’t come weirder or more wonderful than with the feature debut by writer and director Zoé Wittock. Jumbo is a fantasy drama which follows painfully shy Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) as she returns to her summer job at a local amusement park. Still living with her supportive, if a little overbearing, mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), she struggles with social interactions, but when a new fairground ride opens at her work, her fascination with attractions develops into something more romantic.
Despite its oddities, Jumbo isn’t the first film to have a protagonist embark on a ‘relationship’ with an inanimate object. We’ve seen Ryan Gosling besotted with a blow-up doll in Lars and the Real Girl and most notably, Joaquin Phoenix fall in love with his operating system in Her; an exaggerated sign of things to come in the era of Siri and Alexa.
These quirky plots were explored through comedy or a social commentary on technology, but in Wittock’s tale, there doesn’t seem to be any method to the madness. Jeanne is quite clearly suffering from severe mental health issues, but this isn’t the focus of the narrative. There’s a foray into fantasy where it appears the machine is talking back, or at least making the right noises, and an otherworldly sequence akin to Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi Under the Skin, but none of the storytelling angles are explored in enough depth or detail. Towards the end, her infatuation is even met with a degree of acceptance by those around her as the story becomes increasingly ludicrous.
Leading actress Noémie Merlant received widespread recognition for her portrayal of the artist in A Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This role couldn’t really be more different and it’s a shame that her talents weren’t used to go deep into the troubled psyche of this delusional protagonist. Instead, the character comes across as irrational and unlikeable and the lack of investment makes it harder to embrace her eccentricities.
A disappointing film that squanders the potential of a compelling concept, Jumbo makes for a frustrating, unfulfilling ride and is fit for the scrap heap.
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