‘Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose’ Review: Quirk Over Substance?

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Nandor Fodor and The Talking Mongoose (2023) © Signature Entertainment

Has the shot-like-Wes Anderson TikTok trend gone too far? It seems to have escaped the Gen Z app and infiltrated the big screen, and Adam Sigal’s new feature is replete with symmetrical shot compositions, trains, yellow rain jackets, and most importantly, a quirky premise. This one is based on a true story: Nandor Fodor, the parapsychologist, travels to the Isle of Man to investigate one family’s claim that a supernaturally gifted talking mongoose named ‘Gef’ is living on their farm. Oh, and Gef is played by Neil Gaiman.

★★✰✰✰

Unfortunately the interest ends there, and Simon Pegg’s wonderful performance as the real historical figure of Nandor Fodor can do little to save this underwritten film. The cinematography, production design, and score are all beautiful and perfectly polished, but while the concept is fun, the movie never quite has much to say. Even with its short ninety-minute runtime and jaunty soundtrack, it ends up feeling like a drag. It’s dialogue-heavy, edited at a slow pace, and winds up not half as much fun as a movie about a clairvoyant talking mongoose should be. 

Nandor Fodor is a Hungarian parapsychologist living and working in London with the help of his enamoured assistant Anne, played by a talented Minnie Driver. He has been excommunicated from the academic parapsychologist community for not believing in ghosts enough, his research involving rationalising and explaining supposed supernatural events and happenings. This leaves him high and dry, alone between the public sceptics and the specialist believers and abandoned by all but Anne, who worships his genius. One day, he receives a lead on a remarkable supernatural happening on the Isle of Man. A family, and all the surrounding villagers, are convinced in the existence of a talking mongoose named Gef, who claims he comes from India, seems to have a magical insight into people’s private lives and secrets, and—importantly—will never allow himself to be seen.

The story sounds outlandish, and the casting of Pegg (famous for comedies such as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) implies a laugh-a-minute ride. But Nandor Fodor never gets around to being exactly funny, nor is there enough mystery or intrigue for it to be truly engaging. Its themes of death and mortality are only ever touched upon lightly; Fodor’s fixation on what happens after we pass, closely tied to the loss of his father, only seems to emerge properly towards the end of the film. This element of his character is left criminally unexplored, and his fascination with Gef—who seems to be an important piece to solving the mortality puzzle—remains under explained until the end of the film.

Nandor Fodor and The Talking Mongoose (2023) © Signature Entertainment

Minnie Driver as Fodor’s assistant Anne is a promising character, and very well acted, but she is not used to her to her full capacity. The same can be said for the rest of the cast, especially the young daughter of the house, Voirrey (Jessica Balmer). She is quiet, introverted, and closest to Gef. She is also described as a ‘talented ventriloquist’, suggesting that she is the key to the mongoose mystery. But we never get an insight into this young girl, living alone on a farm on a remote island, or what that isolation might compel her to do. Like many other possible lines of investigation in the film, Voirrey’s character is unexplored and held at arm’s length.

The Verdict

Ultimately, fancifulness doesn’t go far enough to save Nandor Fodor from its flaws. The film lacks enough mystery to be a thriller, enough humour to be a comedy, and enough writing to be a human drama. While the film is very technically accomplished , no proper tone is ever established and it winds up feeling unsatisfying and, bizarrely, a little bit boring.

Words by Eli Dolliver


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