The baleful, dreamy “Mister Lonely” begins with a slow-motion shot of a boy on a mini-moped. The bike eases around a racetrack bend while the Bobby Vinton song of the film's title washes over the soundtrack. Eventually, it's obvious something strange is up. Those black high-waters, that red button-down shirt, the armband, the surgical face mask: It's not a biker; it's Michael.
The closer the bike gets to us, the clearer it becomes that we are in the hands of a man whose ZIP code is up in the ionosphere. Then Samantha Morton shimmies onto the premises as a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who invites Luna to move into the lush Scottish commune she shares with a small, flickering constellation of imposter stars, and the movie establishes its own address somewhere in Wonderland, where a version of Michael Jackson doubles as a version of Alice.
The mansion-mates include a profane Abe Lincoln, a doddering pope, his wife, the Queen of England, a rumpled Madonna, one Buckwheat, one Sammy Davis Jr., a Little Red Riding Hood, and a James Dean. The Three Stooges are here. And Marilyn has a daughter named Shirley Temple, and her husband is Charlie Chaplin.
Director Harmony Korine wrote “Mister Lonely” with his brother Avi, and these impersonators are like refractions of the iconic pop-history stars who live in a child's imagination brought gently down to earth. The impersonators tend to the chickens (well, Buckwheat does). They cook meals. They prepare for a talent show. They watch in sadness as the lambs on their farm are put down. With all respect to VH1, this is the surreal life.
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Michael and Marilyn have a brief conversation about when they knew they wanted to be someone else. Otherwise, Korine moves past matters of everyday identity and ruminates on the nature of belief.
In its slightly comical, somewhat mordant, and completely ambient way, “Mister Lonely” wonders about the perils of idol worship, the way people can hand their entire selves over to a religion, be it Catholicism or celebrity.