A computer scans Robin Wright to make a perfect duplicate in “The Congress.” | DRAFTHOUSE FILMS
Robin Wright plays a version of Robin Wright playing a version of Robin Wright that becomes an animated version of Robin Wright and also an older Robin Wright and if your head is spinning from that, welcome to my world as I absorbed “The Congress,” one of the most original and yet somehow also one of the more tedious film-going experiences of the year.
It’s fascinating and boring, intriguing and exasperating, but ultimately it felt like a jambalaya of ideas that didn’t quite mesh into a satisfying experience.
What happens? What doesn’t happen is more like it. The sublime Robin Wright plays an actress named Robin Wright who has had the career of … Robin Wright.
In real life, Wright is killing it on the Netflix series “House of Cards,” and she continues to work in film, appearing in “Moneyball,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and the upcoming “Everest.”
In “The Congress,” Wright’s career has come to a halt. As her longtime agent Al (Harvey Keitel) and studio chief Jeff Green (Danny Huston) of “Miramount Pictures” constantly remind Robin, she was briefly Hollywood’s golden girl when she played Buttercup in “The Princess Bride” and Jenny in “Forrest Gump,” but she cost the studio millions by pulling out of projects at the last minute, she was difficult to work with and she made “bad choices,” over and over.
The scumbucket Green has one final contract offer for Robin: She will allow herself to be scanned by a mega-computer that will capture every part of her physical being, every inch of her acting range and even the essence of Robin Wright. (They’ll also make her appear to be about a decade and a half younger.) The studio will then be free to use the forever 30-ish Robin Wright in any way they choose, but the real Robin will never be allowed to act for the rest of her days.
Initially Robin is repulsed by the idea, but her son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has a rare condition that could eventually render him deaf and blind, and he needs constant care and attention. Besides, nobody’s offering her real acting work any more. Eventually Robin signs on. (When she expresses regrets halfway through the process, her old friend and agent Al wins her over with a speech equal parts heartbreaking and calculating. It’s one of the best pieces of acting Harvey Keitel has ever done.)
These early sequences hint at possible greatness. We’re buckled in for an unsettling, chilling, weird ride.
And then things get truly bizarre.
We fast-forward 20 years, where the real-life, 60-ish Robin Wright arrives at a Futurist Congress by Miramount, which will take place in a “restricted, animated zone.” After she ingents some sort of hallucinogenic chemical, Robin and the world around her become animated — a cartoon acid trip of creepy and disturbing humans, robots and animals. The look is part Ralph Bakshi, part Chuck Jones, and part about a dozen other animated artists.
Director Ari Folman (“Waltz with Bashir”) fills the screen with vibrant colors and insanely weird images, whether it’s Michael Jackson showing up briefly as a waiter who carves up a lobster tail after the lobster has helpfully shed its own shell; cockroaches playing poker on a man’s lap, or a frozen-grinned Tom Cruise circa “Top Gun” wandering into Robin’s world, which is all of her own making, or is it?
Jon Hamm voices Dylan Truliner, a rebel fighter with a particular interest in Robin. Paul Giamatti is excellent in a few live-action scenes as Aaron’s doctor and Robin’s friend. Wright is magnificent, whether she’s playing the live-action, somewhat fictionalized version of herself, or voicing the anime-looking Robin floating through the animated zone.
“The Congress” presents a slew of big-picture, mind-bending thoughts to ponder, from the future of movies to the nature of fantasy to the vital importance of having choice as a part of our lives to the concept of an afterworld. But all those animated scenes of creepy little robots and humans riding cockroaches and kites causing planes to explode eventually created a detached experience for me. The longer it went on, the less I cared about what happened to any of the Robin Wrights in this movie.
Drafthouse Films presents a film written and directed by Ari Folman. Running time: 122 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center and available on demand.