Jumbo is based on a true story about a woman who falls in love with a tilt-a-whirl ride at the amusement park she works at. Sounds like a rather absurd concept that should belong in the same category as Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 absurd horror-comedy, Rubber, which looks at a tire that kills people through telepathy. But writer/director Zoé Wittock didn’t want to make an absurd comedy. She was focused on making an endearing, heartfelt coming-of-age romance and she did just that.
We are introduced to Jeanne (Noémie Merlant), a shy woman who still lives with her mother (Emmanuelle Bercot) and is fascinated with the amusement park she works at. Jeanne is the night janitor at the park, walking along at night emptying garbage cans and picking up gum from the patrons who roamed the park during the day. One night, she stops by the parks new attraction, The Move-It, a spinning, twisting tilt-a-whirlesque ride Jeanne calls Jumbo, and feels an immediate bond, a bond she has never felt before, even with a human.
Jumbo is really a forbidden love story. In most movies of this type the forbidden love might be between people of opposite race or a same-sex love that doesn’t fly in the era, town, or family of our characters. Here, it is a forbidden love between a woman and an amusement park ride, yet it is one you feel the entire time. Your heart warms when you see how happy Jeanne is with Jumbo and talking about Jumbo, an emotion you assume she’s barely felt in her life. But when she tries to tell those closest to her about her and Jumbo, everyone thinks that she is insane and it really crushes your heart. As weird as it sounds, you want Jeanne to be happy with Jumbo and the fact that this movie could make me feel this way is a testament to the acting and Wittock’s writing and direction.
Jumbo would not work if not for the outstanding performance by Merlant. Breaking out in 2019’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, her performance in Jumbo could not be more different than her performance in Portrait. In the hands of a lesser, less-committed actor, this performance would not work in the slightest. But thanks to Merlant fully committing emotionally to her character, you really feel for Jeanne. You feel her love for Jumbo and you feel the sadness when everyone tells her that she is crazy. It’s a great performance and one of my favorites of 2020.
Jumbo might sound weird on the surface, but it’s really a sweet romance about a woman who finds happiness in a place you’d least expect it. Led by an incredible performance by Noémie Merlant, smart direction and creative writing by Wittock, this is a love story unlike any you’ve ever seen before.
Jumbo is part of the FEATURES category at the 2020 Chattanooga Film Festival.
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