Review: ‘Birthmarked’ bears the marks of Wes Anderson

Family comedy about two scientists raising three children feels like ‘Royal Tenenbaums’-lite

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The debate between nurture and nature is at the center of “Birthmarked,” but the issues this quirk-laden comedy should raise are ones of homage vs. rip-off.

Toni Collette and Matthew Goode star in the comedic “Birthmarked.”

“Birthmarked” — in look, tone and overall sensibility — is a direct lift of the style of Wes Anderson, the delicate, exacting filmmaker behind such twee experiments as “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” There are, of course, plenty of worse directors to copy. But the comparisons are so obvious it detracts from the rest of the effort.

Catherine (Toni Collette) and Ben (Matthew Goode) are a pair of scientists in the late 1970s who agree to raise three children — their daughter and two adopted sons — in a long-term experiment to prove nurture is more powerful than nature. They’ll raise the daughter of idiots to be a genius, the son of violent parents to be a pacifist and their own son to be an artist.

They’re funded by Gertz (Michael Smiley), who makes frequent visits and to whom they report their findings, which he’s looking to publish. On site is Samsonov (Andreas Apergis), an ex-marksman from Russia who stays with the family and makes sure the experiment stays on track.

The whole thing plays heavily like “Tenenbaums,” down to the warm narration (provided by Fionnula Flanagan, who plays Gertz’ assistant) and the cool vintage music cues (Rodriguez’ “Crucify Your Mind” plays over one key sequence).

However, the Wes Anderson appropriation — right down to the on-screen labeling of items and actions through title cards, an Anderson signature — becomes the driving force of the movie. Director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais shows he can do a pretty good Anderson, but this experiment, otherwise, feels incomplete.

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Rated R for language, nudity, some drug content

Running time: 90 minutes