It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Large battles can be lost on small fields. One of the reasons so many fashionable New York critics didn't like "Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?," I'm convinced, is that the title is so hard to fit into an opening paragraph.
Worse still, the film is critic-proof. It pretends not to be a movie at all, but a movie about the making of a movie. While Heironymus doggedly pushes ahead with his life's story, he gets advice from all sides. Producers, writers and three particularly obnoxious critics are constantly popping up to tell us what's wrong with the movie. It's indulgently autobiographical. The pieces don't fit together. It doesn't have a proper ending. The Mercy Humppe sequence will never get past the little old ladies on the censor board. Right! Right!
But "Heironymus" isn't as simple as that. It is strange, wonderful, original, and not quite successful. It is just about the first attempt in English to make the sort of personal film Fellini and Godard have been experimenting with in their very different ways. It is not as great as "8 1/2" but it has the same honesty and self-mocking quality.
It is about Anthony Newley, I suppose. He wrote and directed it, and plays Heironymus. He also plays the film's director. But which film's? There is, first of all, the film playing at the Playboy in Chicago: Heironymus 1, we'll say. Then there's the film Heironymus is showing to his mother, children and associates. It is an autobiographical account of his life: Heironymus II. Then there's the film (within the film) being made about the night when Heironymus shows his film: Heironymus III. It's the old barbershop mirror illusion: Reality fades into infinity, creating a great deal, of doubt along the way about what's real.