Few films can match the premise that Jumbo presents you with. The concept of a movie about an awkward young woman who falls in love with a theme park ride lends itself to anything. Literally, anything. The flick could just as easily be a comedy as a drama. Hell, even an earnest romance could spring force from this idea. It’s all about the execution. Unfortunately, that’s where Jumbo falls flat. While the concept is perfectly bonkers, the lack of any real narrative material renders it an ultimately meaningless experience. In short order, one realizes that there’s not much here beyond the set-up, and that’s a real shame.
Jumbo should be a weird blast, but it never comes across at all. The fact that the film ends up as a hard sell shows how poorly it’s executed. This French fantasy certainly has its heart in the right place, attempting to go for earnestness instead of lunacy, and that’s fine, but without a proper plot, it just doesn’t work. Once the initial premise and set up is established, the movie spins its wheels for about an hour, and that’s not something it can recover from.
Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) is a shy young woman, one who barely seems able to function. Her more gregarious and lusty mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot) is a huge presence in front of her day in and day out. Margarette wants Jeanne to meet a boy and get laid, but it’s not quite something that seems to be in the cards. However, Jeanne does have an interest in carousels, which pairs nicely with her job cleaning an amusement park. One night, while tending to the flagship new ride, it appears to communicate with her. Nicknaming it Jumbo, she develops a bond with the ride. Before long, she falls hard for it.
In love with Jumbo, Jeanne can’t seem to find any support. Her boss Marc (Bastien Bouillon) has eyes for her, but she only has eyes for Jumbo. Of course, that’s not something that’s going to go down easy for others. So, while Jeanne hopes for acceptance, Margarette, Marc, and others react poorly to her yearning. As for Jeanne? She just wants to be able to follow her heart, like anyone else in the world is able to.
The performance from Noémie Merlant is impressively committed. She really goes deep into Jeanne’s dedication to Jumbo. Merlant finds a good balance between awkward and in love. With stronger material, she really could have left a mark. Emmanuelle Bercot is largely off-putting as her abrasive mother, but it’s by design. No one else in the cast leaves much of a mark, but Sam Louwyck has a lovely little moment as the only person who actually wants to let Jeanne just be happy.
Filmmaker Zoé Wittock may not have much of a script on her hands, but visually, her direction is often beautiful. She makes Jumbo the ride, as well as Jumbo the film, hypnotic to look at. The colors are vibrant and expressive, to say the least. The issue is just with the screenplay. Simply put…almost nothing happens here. With the set up Wittock has developed here, it shouldn’t feel like a slog to get through a 93 minute movie. And yet, here we are.
Jumbo just can’t go anywhere beyond its initial premise. It’s a shame too, since there’s so much promise within it. Wittock’s earnestness, along with the commitment from Merlant, is to be commended, but there’s simply not a story here. The idea deserved better execution, plain and simple. Alas.