Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet: A Moving Film About a Young Boy's Life Journey

Movie Review: The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)
Version: Library borrow

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a character-driven story that revolves around 10 year old prodigy T.S. Spivet, a misunderstood and under appreciated genius cartographer and science geek just yearning for some love. It is played to perfection by young new actor, Kyle Catlett, who in many ways reminds me of a misunderstood and under appreciated Kevin played by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, minus the tantrums and mischievous pranks.

T.S. (S is for Sparrow) lives in the wide open spaces of Montana with his father, mother, and 14 year old sister, all who are too self-absorbed to give him the love he needs. There is also T.S.'s twin brother, Layton, who is his father's favorite, because he is as much like his dad as T.S. is like his mother. But Layton is accidentally killed doing a science experiment with T.S. meant to bond the two together. The accident seems to drive everyone in the family farther apart rather than bringing them closer together. Even T.S.'s mother, after whom he supposedly takes, becomes more obsessed with her study of bugs than with her remaining son.

Now, T.S. has mapped out plans for a perpetual motion machine and sends them to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. And one day, in the midst of family turmoil, he receives a call inviting him to come to Washington to receive the prestigious Baird Award and give a speech. They don't realize the genius behind the machine is a 10 year old. At first he makes up excuses why can't be there, but as he discovers that, in his own mind he won't be missed anyway, T.S. calls back and accepts the invitation. Early in the morning he packs his bag -- underwear, raisins, binoculars, and a few sundry other things a 10 year old would think to take, plus his mother's diary -- and quietly leaves the family ranch to stow away on a freight train, headed for the Smithsonian.

From there, the story becomes a life's journey of self discovery.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet includes a great ensemble cast with fine performances, including Helena Bonham Carter as his preoccupied mother and Judy Davis as the frenetic, PR-obsessed Smithsonian assistant director. The distant father is played by Callum Keith Rennie and the out-of-touch sister is played by Niamh Wilson. Appreciate twin brother Layton is played by Jakob Davies. But all told, this film is driven by the power of the performance by Catlett, on whose young shoulders this story's success depends.

Ironically, the setting for this tale is America -- Montana, a mid-stop in Chicago, and Washington, D.C., and the stretch of country in between. But this is a Canadian film, with parts shot in British Columbia and Alberta as well as in Chicago and Washington. So there are some interesting quirks to the film. Some of the characters that T.S. meets along the way come off not quite believable, in a Canadian sort of way. In one situation, T.S. runs away from a railway security guard and separated from his train ride, he takes to hitchhiking along the highway. A trucker stop to pick him up. That should raise all kinds of red flags but to our friendlier, gentler Canadian friends, that might not seem like a problem. I don't know what the child abduction statistics are in Canada, but apparently they aren't high enough to cause a film director to shy away from that scene.

This film leads me back to a comment I made in an earlier post. Some of the best films are independent films, and The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a great example. Rather than lots of flashes and explosions and car chases or celebrity sex scenes, the heart of this film is totally character driven about a young boy's fearless life journey. It's a great film, and one every family can enjoy.

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