Filmed in 2009, but not released stateside until November 2013, Mr. Nobody is an ambitious experimental film that mostly succeeds.
The movie features multiple continuity breaks, all of them intentional. Many characters have British accents in some scenes and lack them in others; an elderly man can stand upright early in the feature but must hunch over later; in one sequence Nemo Nobody’s (Jared Leto’s) face is burned, but the burn moves from one side to the other; and there are probably many more I didn’t notice. The breaks help make the audience feel Nemo’s disorientation and confusion.
Writer/Director Jaco Van Dormael’s camera angles and unorthodox framing do the same. Ditto that for costumes that occasionally replicate background and intense audio design that never lets us feel comfortable.
Also, Mr. Nobody is sensationally well-cast, not only because the actors each give great performances, but also because actors of different ages playing the same character all look alike.
Sarah Polley as the adult Elise, Tony Regbo as teenage Nemo and Juno Temple as fifteen-year-old Anna all shine. Polley’s performance is openly vulnerable and emotional. Regbo and Temple are so compelling that they deserve a coming-of-age film all their own.
Despite multiple story arcs, Mr. Nobody’s narrative is fairly straight forward. We understand its themes of living life in the moment, not suffering paralysis of choice, and finding joy in our current lives, whatever pain they happen to bring us. In that way, Mr. Nobody proves successful.
Yet, the different arcs also limit the movie’s emotional power. Polley makes us feel through forceful performance, but otherwise Mr. Nobody fails to generate much concern. We are entertained, but we are not invested.
Partially because none of the characters, nor the romances, are well developed. We come closest to understanding Anna and Nemo’s connection, but even that relationship isn’t communicated with the power it needs. Which says nothing about Nemo’s terribly under-explored marriage to Jean.
Yet, Mr. Nobody remains a good movie, not least because it is edited very well, so well that we usually identify which story line we’re watching before we even see characters.