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Michel Gondry, Do It Yourself Review: As Mediocre as His Recent Output

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Michel Gondry, Do It Yourself
(France, 80 min.)
Dir. François Nemeta
Programme: Special Presentations


For a period of time, Michel Gondry felt like the talisman for a new Hollywood. Bringing his experimental style fostered through his music-video roots, he added a much-needed sense of boldness to the multiplex. An Oscar winner for 2004’s exceptional Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he found soulmates in the likes of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, twisting audience expectations and minds by crafting films that defied easy categorization as anything other than Gondryesque.

Do It Yourself, François Nemeta’s heartfelt, almost cloying celebration of Gondry’s craft, comes from a good place. It’s the work of a friend and collaborator tracing the journey of the artist with whom he has been closely tied. Nemeta’s own credits as 2nd assistant director on several early Björk videos situated the documentarian at the start of Gondry’s career. This relationship allows for a more casual approach and intimate access to the often reticent filmmaker for dive deeper into his creative process.

We trace Gondry’s beginnings as a young boy obsessed with music and art, eventually merging these interests into the work he did with his art-pop band Oui Oui. Their late-’80s rise came right as music videos were embracing modes of wild storytelling beyond the simple concert footage or mega productions by the Pop Superstars, and Gondry’s DIY aesthetic that was both playful and wild, evocative of icons like Méliès, or more contemporaneous filmmakers like Terry Gilliam or Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro.

Through a series of clips from music videos, behind-the-scenes footage, and straightforward talking-head interviews shot in a pallid, seemingly abandoned video store that hasn’t restocked in decades, the two filmmakers reminisce in ways that are, at times, informative. In other moments, it’s as if we’re overhearing dull, nostalgic tales of people catching up.

For fans of Gondry, there’s little here you’re really going to be surprised by, and for those unaware of his filmography, a far simpler thing would be to watch a few of the great works and probably skip just about everything from the last 20 years or so. There’s plenty of ripe questions to ask here that are never raised – the fantastic failures of his attempts at blockbuster, comic book filmmaking is given shorter shrift than the three-minute quirky music vids the likes of Beck reminisce about.

Overall, this the least Gondryesque portrait one could make: a linear, even dull, discussion that resembles a post-screening Q&A with a few clips peppered in to add both colour and minutes to the running time. The passive-aggressive interview with Gondry paired with Spike Jonze is perhaps the most electric, and much more could clearly be mined about how both have navigated the changing landscape of Hollywood when newer, younger, more experimental filmmakers who also started with wild music videos, like the Daniels, or contemporaries like David Fincher, find critical and commercial glory while these two pioneers struggle to make their next projects.

Another flaw is in ignoring how important Dave Chapelle’s Block Party was to the history of hip-hop, with a massive shift from those set to perform as the headliners from what was then the massively popular Soul Aquarians collective giving way to nascent upstarts like Kanye West that would soon dominate the scene. Gondry’s role in bringing that film to life, his thoughts on how capturing this critical moment affected his own musical journey, and so on are questions perhaps for a more deeply constructed documentary unafraid to ask bigger questions of its subject.

As a gentle reminder that, “Hey, the guy’s still working away,” then Michel Gondry, Do It Yourself serves that minimal purpose. Clips from his most recent film, 2023’s The Book of Solutions, which arrived with middling reviews after its Cannes Director’s Fortnight debut, feels less like the excitement of a revitalized artist, and more like a tired middle-aged man no longer celebrated for his youthful artistry.

In many ways, the industry has passed Gondry by, and save for the one major success with Sunshine, the rest of his films are either thought of as interesting if flawed, or downright forgettable. This, of course, is exactly what’s ripe for a caustic, existentially robust rumination, exactly the kind of thing that made Gondry’s bones in the first place. Instead, we’re left with a pedestrian profile of a once profoundly influential filmmaker, one that serves little in establishing his current relevance for anyone still bothering to pay attention.

Michel Gondry, Do It Yourself screened at Hot Docs 2024.

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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