Title: The Last Mimzy
Genre: Drama, Family, Sci-Fi
Director: Robert Shaye
Screenwriters: Bruce Joel Rubin, Toby Emmerich
Starring: Joely Richardson, Rainn Wilson, Timothy Hutton
With The Last Mimzy coming on the heels of Bridge to Terabithia, I am tempted to declare that we are witnessing nothing less than a family film renaissance. Instead of the usual string of ugly, vulgar frivolity with lots of pratfalls and talking animals, we’ve been blessed with two beautiful, universal movies: the sad, gentle Terabithia speaking to kids eloquently about love and death, and now the soaring, wondrous Mimzy trying hard to reach Extra-Terrestrial heights and getting a good part of the way there. Had I seen The Last Mimzy at age nine, it would have immediately become my favorite film. It’s that rich and that much fun.
The key, I think — or one of the keys, at any rate — is the screenplay’s persistent straight face. Based on an old short story by Lewis Padgett (a.k.a. Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore), The Last Mimzy takes its ambitious, fantastic science-fiction premise as it finds it, readily adopts its PG-rated niche, and goes full-speed ahead, never winking at the kids or the adults in the audience. It’s no coincidence that the film’s weakest moments — the ones where its confident, convincing facade quakes and threatens to crumble — are the comic relief, mostly involving goofball co-star Rainn Wilson mugging or rambling. This may be a “kids’ movie,” and it may involve a stuffed rabbit from the future, but this is also serious business. The fact that director (and New Line honcho) Robert Shaye and his screenwriters managed to realize this makes all the difference.
Mimzy benefits from another courageous choice, and this is where Shaye deviates from his family film inspirations: the story is not told from the kids’ point of view. Indeed, the film doesn’t permit us inside their minds; suggests that we can’t enter, and wouldn’t understand anyway. Rather, we’re positioned somewhere between the children, somehow transformed by a box of extraordinary toys they find buried on the beach, and their bewildered parents: unlike the latter, we have some idea of what’s happening and why, but just what that bunny is doing to little Emma Wilder’s brain — what she’s hearing, thinking, feeling — remains as much of a secret to us as to mom and dad. This serves to make the movie darker, at times even a little unsettling, but I think that thoughtful kids will eat it up with a spoon, absorbed in the story’s otherworldly mystery.
But though the film keeps us at arm’s length, it doesn’t make the kids ciphers — they get bright, lively dialogue (Noah: “Where’s the stupid string?” Emma: “It’s in my stupid hand.”) and the benefit of likable, unaffected performances by Chris O’Neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn. They’re worthy heroes, unflappable in the face of danger and impossible obstacles, but still emphatically children — perfect for the genre and the target audience. And despite their distinct movieness, they are saddled with no obnoxious catchphrases, no overbearing cuteness mandate; the film never wants us to laugh at them. Here, too, it keeps a straight face.
Adult me insists that there are problems — Mimzy sometimes feels the need to pack a lot of information into a small space, resulting in occasional bursts of clunky expository dialogue; the climactic scenes give the adults too much to do and veer away from the film’s core strengths; Rainn Wilson is generally unfortunate and threatens to spoil entire stretches. But nine year-old me replies that all of this is nonsense — that Mimzy is brave, smart, transporting, a family classic in the making. And adult me for the most part acquiesces.
Movies can form extraordinary connections between people. The Last Mimzy isn’t perfect, and at times I wished it had been more careful and consistent, but I honestly believe that parents and kids who watch it together will find real, meaningful common ground. Take note: where most “family films,” for better or worse, peddle flash and excess, Mimzy (along with Terabithia) offers something real and truly memorable.