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Movie Review: Perfect Sense (2011)

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It is surprising how often a film is a hit at film festivals, but gets at best a mixed reception from the critics and audience when it gets wider release. David MacKenzie’s Perfect Sense, set for release in the U.S. in February is a case in point. It was well received at the 2011 Sundance festival and won the prize for the best new British feature at the Edinburgh Festival—no mean credentials. The critical reaction since has been decidedly mixed, if not downright negative.

On the face of it, the film would seem to have a lot going for it. There is a talented cast led by Ewan McGregor and Eva Green. There is an intriguing script by the Danish writer, Kim Fupz Aakeson. It is the kind of story that should have a lot going for it as it tries to combine romance and menace with intellectual complexity. The city of Glasgow in which the film is set is beautifully shot. At times it has a poetry about it.

McGregor plays a talented chef incapable of meaningful emotional commitments. Green is an epidemiologist who also has problems with romantic attachments. They come together as the world around them seems to be falling apart as a result of the sudden emergence of a strange disease that is causing sensory loss not only in Glasgow, but all over the world. The disease begins with an intense emotional experience, at first an overwhelming sadness, and then the loss of one of the senses.

There is a period of calm as people get used to living with the change. Then it starts again. McGregor and Green search for love as the world seems disintegrates around them. There is calamity, but life, as the narrator keeps telling us, goes on.

This should make for exciting cinema, and it almost does. If there is a problem, it lies in the film’s inability to seamlessly mesh its emotional and intellectual content. It is difficult to feel much for the central characters. They are essentially unlikeable people. They keep referring to themselves as “assholes,” and they are right. McGregor is introduced throwing on one night stand out of his bed. Green later does the same to him.

Moreover their relationship seems insignificant in the light of the chaos developing around them. Since it is difficult to emotionally identify with them, it is the intellectual content of the film than gets the viewer’s focus. It plays more like a puzzle that needs to be solved. Puzzles are fine. They exercise the brain. They pass the time pleasantly. They challenge outside the box thinking. A great film needs to make an emotional impact.

Perfect Sense is an ambitious film. It aims high. If it falls short, better to fall short trying to do something significant, than do something ordinary. Whatever Perfect Sense is, like it or not, it is definitely not ordinary.

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About Jack Goodstein

  • Tommy (senseless kid)

    Having read many reviews for this film on the web in order to appreciate it even more then I inmediately did I find that many of those who do not like the movie think the lovers are not in love enough to be convincing. What then does it take for Susan and Michael to be convincing? For them to talk about babies or a wedding or meet the parents? For them to say the word? You miss the point entirely. Both Micheal and Susan are insecure about relying on their senses to build friendship. And then each hesitant step they do take is likely to be undone by the decease taking another badly needed sense away. Yet the two of them are drawn to each other every time again. If that is not strong enough attraction for you, what is? They reach out even when it is almost too late. You require them to be lovers early on, but I think when the movie ends they are only just starting to accept their own feelings. And that is exactly the strength of the story: how can one give in to his senses while his senses are giving in? What struggle, what drama to be afraid of pain. When the film ends all they have left is …. indeed, sense of touch, which might mean pain.

    Many also comment the story is complicated, even hard to follow. Yet it is actually very simple. And then the narrative even tells us in advance what is about to happen. What is there to miss?
    To apreciate this film, stop your brain analysing, it makes no sense. Better to switch on your senses and float along. You may just find It is sensationally good.

    (Sorry if my Inglish is not entirely correct. It is not my native language).