Writer/director Zoe Wittock’s drama/fantasy Jumbo is an unconventional love story in the vein of Spike Jonze’s Her and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Jeanne (Noemie Merlant) is a shy young woman who works as a custodian at an amusement park. When the park introduces its latest ride, Jeanne develops romantic feelings for it.
It’s a bizarre premise indeed. While not everything about this film works, there are a considerable number of elements that do. The acting is very strong across the board. Merlant in particular is terrific in the lead role. Though the film itself never quite sells the romantic premise (more on that later), Merlant absolutely does, and all of the picture’s most moving moments are hers.
As a lover of strange movies, I was very intrigued by this premise. And at no point was it ever dull. I was constantly intrigued as to where this film could be going. Having written that, movies with such strange concepts really have to work double time to sell the idea. This is where Jumbo fell a little flat for me. The aforementioned The Shape of Water understood that it was necessary to take the time to build the peculiar romance. In the case of this film, it happens all too quickly and never feels earned. Jeanne sees the machine, and by the next day, she’s smitten. The film never really explores Jeanne coming to terms with her off-beat desires.
While I was completely locked in for most of the film, it did lose me considerably in the last ten minutes. Another character’s arc is all too sudden to be believable, and then in the final minute, the movie’s tone shifts so abruptly that it’s jarring.
Jumbo has some charm, heart, and intimacy, but never quite takes off.