Unencumbered by any plotting beyond a single romantic riff and peopled with grating thumbnails as characters, The Science of Sleep seems mainly to exist as an excuse for director Michel Gondry to smush together half-recalled dreams and the lesser-baked ideas that didn't make it into his Daft Punk, Beck or White Stripes videos. A cloying confection of candied whimsy and exclusive self-referentiality, it features hunk du jour Gael GarcÃa Bernal doing that lost boy-child thing so irresistible to teen girls with LiveJournals featuring Edward Scissorhands icons, but cumulatively insufferable to anyone else. Too visually inventive to be unendurable, it leads to the singular experience of feeling simultaneously bored, annoyed and vaguely amused at the occasional zinger. Looking for a repeat of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Just rent that movie again.
Sleep is about Stephane, an arty type who moves back to his parents' Paris home when his dad passes away and his mom (Miou-Miou) lands him a job doing mindless hackwork for a calendar company. He whiles away the dull hours daydreaming about hosting his own 'Stephane TVâ?� show, which involves him prancing about on an egg-carton set, playing drums and cutting other silly capers.
Eventually, a androgyne-cute girl named Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) moves in next door, and Stephane spends the rest of the movie ping-ponging between dream and reality trying to woo her. And that's basically it ' everything else is coy images and skits.
We see Stephane's discomfort at working a copy machine when his hands become elephant-huge (all thumbs; get it?). He creates a 'time machineâ?� from computer innards and Polaroid flashcubes that allows him to flash forward and backward in his and Stephanie's relationship. Not surprisingly, there's also lots of purposely subprofessional animation, from blatant Jan Svankmajer-isms (a hair-growing razor machine) to an impressive city of agitated cardboard.
For a while, Gondry entertains a fairly strict dream/reality structure, but by the time Stephane defiantly shouts, 'Death to organization!â?� it's less a Burroughsian sound bite than a declaration of the filmmaker's preferred methods. The film is littered with references to the filmmaker's life, none of which enhance anything for a person lacking press notes. More off-putting are the film's iffy flirtations with seriousness and relentless self-assurances of its own cutting-edge cred.
Stephane is into 'Disasterologyâ?� ' that is, creating childish drawings of assorted recent, real calamities. He runs through his collection for his boss, but stops short of the assumed 'edgyâ?� payoff: a neato outsider-art version of Sept. 11. (One assumes grown-ups reminded the filmmakers that 'zany,â?� 'whimsicalâ?� and 'Sept. 11â?� still don't work in the same sentence.)
Meanwhile, on the hipster front, we see Stephane fall in a miserable heap in front of a Smiths poster. It's an obvious, cheap riff that also invites us to laugh at our supposed hero as a sub-Morrissey mope. (Actually, he'd become insufferable long before.) Sleep will surely be lauded as a 'singular vision,â?� and for once such an assessment will be true; the film really has only one audience ' its maker.