Noémie Merlant in Jumbo (2020)

MOVIE REVIEW — Jumbo (PFF29)

Beauty and the Carnival Ride — ★★★★

This time last year, I was enjoying the 28th annual Philadelphia Film Festival, taking in screenings for Rian Johnson’s Knives out and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Taika Waititi’s wholesome comedy Jojo Rabbit, and award-season darling, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. The final film I saw at PFF28 however, was Céline Sciamma’s beautiful love story that was Portrait of a Lady on Fire, starring Adèle Haenel and the star of my first film for this virtual version of the Philly Film Fest, Noémie Merlant. I’d be lying if I said Portrait of a Lady on Fire did not influence my decision to see Jumbo, with Merlant’s performance and my love of that film really encouraging me to try this one out, and so try I did. As per the usual, my rating of this movie is clearly displayed above, so you know already that I thought it was great, and if you choose to click off of this review now, I will totally understand! Be sure to check out Jumbo whenever you get the chance via VOD, Film Festival, or maybe in the distant future when COVID isn’t being mishandled and taken lightly, going to the theater will once again become practical, but until then, be safe and stay home to watch (or attend a drive-in if that is an option). For those not clicking away however, first off, thank you, and secondly, let’s talk about Jumbo!

I recently put out a list of all the movies I watched during quarantine over the summer, with mini reviews for all of the 2020 releases, so check that out if you’re interested…

Zoe Wittock’s Jumbo tells the story of Jeanne (Noémie Merlant), a loner who works as a janitor at her local amusement park. Jeanne lives with her mother,
Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot) who is dead-set on pushing Jeanne towards meeting a man to try and boost her social confidence, going as far as saying straight up to her daughter that she “needs to get laid”. Aside from her mother, who is truly quite awful at times (as a person, the actor is great), Marc (Bastien Bouillon), the park operations manager also plays a pivotal role in the film as being the man that Margarette wants Jeanne to fall in love with, and Hubert (Sam Louwyck), the true star of the movie aside from Jeanne, who is the most wholesome man in any media of 2020. Seriously, this man is everything. Of course I’ve left out the glaring piece of information that makes this movie so strange on the surface… the fact that Jeanne falls in love with an amusement park ride at the park she works at. Not only does she fall in love with it and form quite the bond, but she does indeed have sex with Jumbo/MOVE-IT.

SPOILERS FOR JUMBO AHEAD…

Noémie Merlant in Jumbo (2020)

So, this movie is weird, but at the same time, it really isn’t all that weird. Like yes, Jeanne does seem to have her first orgasm via this flat-ride at an amusement park, yes she does talk to it as if it were a person, and yes, at the end she does end up marrying the attraction, but through the execution of the movie, this really does not feel like its “out of this world”. Jeanne is clearly not the most mentally healthy individual and this is commented by all of the main cast, Hubert nicer than the others of course, and Merlant’s performance lends itself to this, as I genuinely felt with her in her most vulnerable moments in the movies. This is someone who has had zero social life and who very clearly is lacking in many places due to her relationship with her mother, the absence of her father, and through her own burrowing within her room, hiding away from the rest of the world. It is absolutely weird to see her get naked and make out with a giant piece of machinery, but this isn’t played for laughs, as you can feel her genuine longing for love with Jumbo. And it isn’t like she doesn’t try to live the normal life her mother wants for her, as we see later on in the film she does end up having sex with Marc, in a truly awkward scene where as he finishes she is seen crying before saying “I will not marry you” before running off.

Bouillon’s Marc is worth talking about, as at first, he seems like a genuinely nice guy. He is understanding of Jeanne’s shyness, and when her mom invites him over to their house without telling Jeanne, he is respectful and is even really sweet to her, talking to her about feeling emotions for inanimate objects by telling a story his mom told him as a kid about objects having souls, and them leaving impressions on us as humans. That being said, Fuck Marc for what he does later in the movie after he finds Jeanne naked with Jumbo, selling the ride off and publicly humiliating this poor girl in front of basically their entire town. Comparatively, Hubert is arguably the most wholesome male character in cinema this year, aside from Bill and Ted of course, as he seems to actually genuinely care about Jeanne, while not judging her for her love for Jumbo. He is the father figure that everyone should aspire to have/be.

Visually, this film has an extremely appealing aesthetic, doused in the neon lights of Jumbo/MOVE-IT against the night sky, with Jeanne being surrounded and enveloped in all of it. Of course there is also the absolutely wild “sex scene”, where Jeanne goes underneath Jumbo into this almost-alien whiteness, seemingly a different dimension, as she strips down to show herself fully to the machine, before being overtaken by its oil, covering her body, slowly and sensually as you see the pleasure on Jeanne’s face. This whole scene is crazy for the fact that it actually works as a love scene, as if you changed the music, it would be right at home in any horror film, with the oil drowning Jeanne. Praise is deserved for this scene in what it achieves visually, as it is easily one of the most striking, memorable sequences from anything released in 2020.

Noémie Merlant in Jumbo (2020)

With Jumbo being Zoe Wittock’s feature-length debut, I have to say, she knocked it out of the park. With such a weird concept, her direction and the performance from Merlant help keep the film grounded in reality, making this totally unbelievable love story into something more than an off-beat comedy, which is how it would likely be presented in America. Similarly to how Portrait of a Lady on Fire turned me on to Sciamma’s work, Jumbo has me optimistic and excited for the future of Zoe Wittock in film.

As I said at the beginning, please go out of your way to see this whenever it releases on VOD or if it somehow comes to a Drive-In near you.

My Social Media:

Twitter — https://twitter.com/NVProfoundFilm

Letterboxd — https://letterboxd.com/Protacrastic/

If you’re interested, here’s my review of Portrait of a Lady on Fire from last year’s Philadelphia Film Festival:

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NotVeryProfoundFilm

NotVeryProfoundFilm

Entertainment Writer, Sometimes a Film Critic, Avid Disney Villain Song Connoisseur || Follow me on Twitter @NVProfoundFilm