Celebrated weirdo music video director Gondry finally makes a feature film without a script by equally celebrated weirdo screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. The results are exuberant, kooky, disarming, and for the most part, successful.
Stephane (art house staple Gael García Bernal) is an inventive young dreamer who returns to Paris after his father's death. Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is his standoffish new neighbor, whom he at first doesn't think much of, then falls hopelessly in love with. That's the story, festooned with plenty of dreamlike visuals.
Gondry, who wrote the screenplay, continuously blends fantasy with reality to the point where the viewer is forced to give up trying to tell which scenes are "real" and which are in Stephane's head. In short, Gondry uses the magic of cinema to do whatever he damn well feels like, and what we're left with is a sort of tone poem about the pain and confusion of unrequited love.
Bernal's dorky performance fits the film's goofy attitude to a tee, and whereas I would have preferred to see Stephane pursue somebody more attractive than the scrawny Gainsbourg, who looks like she smokes ten packs of cigarettes a day (and indeed, inhales nearly as much in the movie), the rest of the cast is wonderful.
Gondry has clearly made a very personal film: his flair for both whimsy and heartbreak is there in every frame. And while some viewers may tire of the endless flights of fancy that Stephane and the movie set off upon, there's enough rich humor and wildly imaginative sights to keep most everybody else interested in Stephane's adventures. There's also a treasure trove of ambiguities in the relationship between Stephane and Stephanie, which will either charm or frustrate audiences.
As for me, I went with the flow: Like Gondry's protagonist – and, I suspect, like Gondry himself – I've been there before, caught up in my own desperate crushes on girls whose interest in me remained maddeningly inscrutable. The insanity of puppy love can never be fully explained, and I commend The Science of Sleep for giving up on providing any answers.