The third feature by Harmony Korine, once the reigning Man You Love to Hate of American indie cinema, is just as likely to confound audiences familiar with the director's prankish rep: a bittersweet fable about faith, the end of innocence, and the search for artistic identity, centering on a lonesome Michael Jackson imitator (the winning Diego Luna) who's summoned by a Marilyn Monroe look-alike (Samantha Morton) to a remote commune for celebrity impersonators. As a metaphor for artistic development, a celebrity impersonator who must ditch his costume and go his own way is a perilously maudlin conceit, especially if you read him as the filmmaker's stand-in. But as director and co-writer (with his brother Avi), Korine has an installation artist's eye (and patience for duration) and a Catskills comic's affection for the threadbare fringes of showbiz. The movie's unmoored imagery has a lingering plaintiveness that even its maker may not be able to explain. Movies tell the same stories over and over, but I know of only one that evokes mourned innocence in just a three-minute slow-motion shot of a Michael Jackson impersonator and a stuffed monkey aboard a clown bike.
Morton does Marilyn in Mister Lonely.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., May 16–Thurs., May 22. Not rated. 112 minutes.