Reviewing the new indie animated film Loving Vincent is a difficult task. Visually, it is gorgeous and a tremendous achievement but, story-wise, it is disappointing. In the end, enjoying the film will depend on how forgiving you are of the plot and how enamored you are with the beautiful unique animation.
Let’s talk about those visuals! Loving Vincent is a sight to behold. Each frame of its 91 minute run-time was created by artists in oil. This created 65,000 paintings from 115 artists. They do an amazing job recreating the movement and feel of a Van Gogh painting- especially in the colored sections. The black and white was a little more jarring but still it was like being in a tornado of movement and texture.
They also have a pretty strong vocal cast including Saoirse Rohan and Chris O’Dowd. My only issue with the vocals is sometimes they felt a little stretched out and not quite at the normal rhythm most people talk. I guess they had to do this to make the animation work but it took me a second to get used to it.
It seems clear Loving Vincent would have been more effective as a short. As we have seen from many of the Pixar shorts, it can be a great way to test out a new visual style without having to worry about story as much.
What they come up with, however, focuses only tangentially on Vincent Van Gogh. Instead of telling a story about Vincent’s life, we learn about the minutia of his death. Our lead, Armand, is a son of a postal worker who’s father asks him to deliver a letter from a recently deceased Vincent to his brother Theo, who has also passed away. As Armand tries to find the right person with whom to deliver the letter, he becomes an investigator looking into Vincent’s supposed suicide. He interviews various townspeople who all have different perspectives on Vincent’s life, work, and death, and that’s about it for the story.
In the right hands, this mystery approach could have been interesting. If some great insight had been expressed about life, mental health, suicide, or art, it would be great. Unfortunately, it all felt very pedestrian and bland. There are moments like Vincent’s relationship with a woman named Marguerite that the entire movie should have been about but, in Loving Vincent, it feels under-served and cliched. Instead of being insightful, the film ends up being a bunch of people saying Vincent was a conflicted misunderstood soul. We already knew that going into the movie (you don’t cut off your own ear and mail it without having issues).
All that said, Loving Vincent is not a bad film. It’s just frustrating when the visuals are so amazing and the story is so meh. I still recommend seeing it and being blown away by wholly unique animation but maybe temper your expectations a bit when it comes to the story. The team should be applauded for their bold innovative work and it is certainly worthy of praise on that level. If only they had matched it with a better story. Oh, well.
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden