Jumbo (2020)

Director: Zoé Wittock
Writer: Zoé Wittock
Cast: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon, Sam Louwyck, Tracy Dossou
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 25.9.2020

Content Note: (critical treatment of) ableism, cripping up (debatable)

Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) divides her time between her home where she lives with her mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), and the amusement park where she works. She loves carousels, ferris wheels and the other attractions in the park and she loves building models of them. This year, the park bought a new ride and Jeanne feels incredibly drawn to it. She nicknames it Jumbo – and Jumbo even starts to communicate with her. Soon their relationship becomes even more intense.

Jumbo is one of the sweetest, most romantic films I’ve seen in a long while (well, together with Dinner in America) and I’m here for this trend of unusual love stories being where the romance lives. Jumbo is well done in any case and hit me right in the feels.

The film poster showing a woman's face in profile, the back of her head a ferris wheel.

Let me get my biggest point of contention out of the way first: it seems very likely that Jeanne is neurodivergent. If I were to judge from what we see in the film (and I’m not a professional, so take this with many grains of salt), I’d say she is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. And while I loved that the film doesn’t bother to go into that – she is how she is – while still tackling the ableism she faces and the desperate attempts to make her(self) fit into neurotypical society, the casting of Merlant, who is neurotypical as far as I know, is a problem. A big one.

Not that Merlant doesn’t play the role well – she does. But it is a role that should have gone to a neurodivergent, preferably autistic (if that’s Jeanne’s background) actor. That it didn’t is really the one thing souring the film for me, because otherwise it gets so many things right. Especially Jeanne’s characterization is beautifully done and would have probably been an extremely rare opportunity for a neurodivergent actor.

Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) with Jumbo.

That being said, I got completely caught up in the film (also thanks to the great music) and I was with Jeanne all the way. The way the film develops her relationship with Jumbo is wonderfully done, and I just have to tip my hat to how the film makes it come alive. Because it really does come alive to the audience as well and not just to Jeanne. Coupled with Jeanne’s beautiful models (I’d love one of those on my bookshelf, please, universe, if you’re listening), it becomes easy to fall in love with amusement parks and their rides yourself.

The film makes a strong case for acceptance and love – in all of its shapes and forms – and for the importance of getting to live your life as you want. It’s a message we can all hear more of.

Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) standing in her room under colorful lightbulbs.

Summarizing: pure sugar

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