'Toon Town: "The Congress" flawed but quite a trip

The Congress (2014)
122 min., not rated (but equivalent to an R).

Director Ari Folman (2008's animated war film "Waltz with Bashir"), adapting Stanislaw Lem's novel "The Futurological Congress," surely isn't phoning it in with "The Congress," an ambitious mess that seems to shove so many ideas in its own head and then comes out the other end not knowing what we should take away. Perhaps that's up to the viewer to mull over, but it keeps the film from being the visionary masterpiece it could have been. The premise is open for revolutionary, challenging opportunities, much like Brandon Cronenberg's 2013 satirical horror curio "Antiviral," in which the celebrity-obsessed common people could pay a pretty penny to have the same disease as their favorite star, and "The Congress" is certainly the more compelling film to watch.

In a tremendous, even poignant performance, Robin Wright plays Robin Wright, herself, but as a B-grade actress about to hit forty-five. Back in 1987, she was seen in Tinseltown as the future, a young and beautiful star on the rise, when winning the role of Princess Buttercup in “The Princess Bride." Now, her career is pretty much over after the "terrible choices" she has made. Robin's last contract is upon her: the executives at Miramount Pictures (if Miramix and Paramount ever merged), led by president Jeff Green (Danny Huston), want to "scan" her face, body, and emotions. Instead of acting ever again, the studio will have a sample of her, and basically, Robin can enjoy life and collect a hefty paycheck while her eternally youthful avatar does all the work. With a boost from her agent Al (Harvey Keitel), she finally goes through with it with the scan. Above all, Robin decides to do it for her kids, the snarky Sarah (Sami Gayle) and the increasingly deaf/blind Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee) with whom she cares for in an old airplane hangar. Twenty years later, she drives to the annual Futurological Congress, an event where Miramount's new digital technology is showcased. Seeing press interviews of her doppelgänger who stars in a franchise as a sci-fi heroine, the real Robin begins her crisis of self-doubt and cynicism of the Hollywood system's future.

A thoughtful study of an aging actress, a phantasmagoric chemical fantasy, a cutthroat meta-commentary on studio rights, commerce and technophobia, and probably a dead-on prescient crystal ball, "The Congress" promises more than it fully delivers. Once the film makes its change into a surreal animated zone, not unlike Dorothy landing in the Technicolored Land of Oz, the film begins fascinating and turns into something wonky, hallucinogenic, and anything-goes, which aren't necessarily bad things. The internal logic within the animated world is sometimes murky, but since it is so fantastical, it is easier to swallow. From that switch, though, writer-director Folman isn't quite able to push the whole journey into the most satisfying directions, losing its way and then finding its way to the heart of the story with Robin's kite-obsessed son. Even so, "The Congress" has plenty to recommend it, most of which is Wright's performance. Going down this rabbit hole is definitely one to experience.