VIFF Review: ‘Jumbo’ is a sweet film about love and acceptance

Jumbo, on its face, is about a young woman who falls in love with a carnival ride. No, not “oh hey I love that ride”, she develops a deep emotional and sexual attachment to a carnival ride.

Yes, that’s a bit weird, but that is just the surface of the story. At its heart, Jumbo is about the fact that love is love, that love is not always what we expect, and that sometimes even if we don’t understand something, acceptance is the best way forward.

Noémie Merlant stars as Jeanne, a socially awkward young woman who works nights shifts as a guard and cleaner at an amusement park. She is the polar opposite of her mother, Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), who embarrasses her with big shows of affection and a nickname that the young boys she works with can’t help but make fun of.

Jeanne has nicknames for all the rides in the park, and she christens the new tilt-a-whirl Jumbo, and as she gets to know him, maintaining his control panel and cleaning his lights with her spit, he begins to come alive. He flashes his lights, communicates with flashes of green (yes) and red (no), and moves and groans as she speaks to him.

Jeanne is enamoured, and Jumbo seems to reciprocate, to the point that their relationship becomes sexual and erotic, with Merlant conveying the longing for this machine almost effectively as she did for Adele Haenel just a year ago. She is captivating in this role much the same way she was a year ago, also.

Margarette, of course, fails to understand. Bercot is similarly captivating in her role as the mother. She just wants her daughter to be normal and is fighting against the woman she is growing up to be. This is the primary relationship in the film; the push and pull between a mother who thinks she knows what’s best and a daughter who just wants to be free to be herself.

It’s not exactly a subtle metaphor for the queer experience, but it is an effective one. I imagine there will be a whole community of LGBTQ+ people who find a connection with this film as a reflection of their experience, or of the experience that they wish they had.

Emmanuelle Bercot and Noémie Merlant, Jumbo
Emmanuelle Bercot and Noémie Merlant in “Jumbo

If you are imagining that you know how the character conflict here will resolve itself you are probably correct. The film does have a happy ending for Jeanne and Margarette, and for Jeanne and Jumbo.

Jumbo is a sweet story that appears on its face, to be a movie about a young woman who falls in love with a carnival ride. At its core, it is something more powerful a story of a mother coming to accept her daughter, and that love is love. That accepting each other for who we are, as long as what we are doing makes us happy, is the best way forward. This is one for the watch list.

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