Despite his father's artistic pedigree, the little boy turns out to be a mathematical genius with a secret affinity for Brigitte Bardot. The family decides to use the little boy's accurate race-track predictions (shades of Biff Tanner) to start a family foundation, and soon the money is rolling in. Late in the movie, apropos of nothing, the already confused narrative comes to a halt, and Stewart takes his son to France, so that he can cuddle and pose for pictures with Bardot herself. This is one of those movies that seems like it was assembled from a bunch of wacky ideas (Brigitte Bardot, child geniuses, artists painting nudes, gold-digging teenagers, overzealous psychoanalysts, degenerate gamblers, scenic San Francisco) thrown into a hat, drawn out at random and strung together to form a screenplay. That said, its inherent charm eventually compensates for its fecklessness.
I discovered Dear Brigitte by combing TV listings for upcoming screenings to record on a DVR. Dear Brigitte was appearing, of course, on the hilariously erratic Fox Movie Channel which...well, more on that later. The summary was something to the effect of, "An 8-year-old boy is obsessed with Brigitte Bardot." Intrigued, I recorded it (several times, as it's on continuously - another Fox quirk) and finally sat down to view the film, wondering to myself: how can they build an entire film from that promise? The truth is, of course, that they don't. In fact, the Bardot subplot (which lends the movie its title) has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Nothing. Oh, they try to tie into the idea that the professor loves the humanities but his son is too science-minded, but it's a stretch to say the least.
And finally - and not even for the climax! - father and son wind up in Brigitte Bardot's living room (supposedly the boy needs a rest from all his strenuous calculating). And thank God, because it's the most winning scene in the whole movie. Bardot coos in heavily accented English over the besotted boy, introduces him to her pet dog, and offers a long kiss on the cheek. And the boy, Bill Mumy, later of "Lost in Space", looks like he's about to collapse from swooning. Wouldn't you? It's all very clean (no masturbation jokes throughout), though Stewart does a bit of a double take when Bardot announces that she's taking the boy to visit her bedroom. Unfortunately for Mumy, all she offers him there is a puppy.
The whole thing is so ridiculous - and seems so much like a contrivance for a desperate screenwriter to meet Bardot himself - that it's a surprise to learn the movie was based on a novel. The whole film is very peculiar, from the computer-graphic credit sequence (since the boy is a "human computer" I guess?) to the ending which proves one supporting character to be a villain and then never exposes his villainy to the protagonists. Watching it, I could easily imagine reading it as an amateur screenplay - anyone who's ever perused one of those knows what I mean, what with the shapeless structure, the non sequitur scenes, the fallback on cliches, and the desperate attempts to assuage incoherence with grand gestures. Yet in addition to its literary credentials, the screenplay was crafted by experienced musical writer Hal Kantor and (uncredited) Oscar-nominated Nunnally Johnson. It was 1965, and middle-aged West Coast swingers were trying to get hip - maybe they concocted the movie in a marijuana haze?
But seriously, you can see the movie stumbling towards some kind of Mod 60's aesthetic (and failing). The narrator name-drops Tom Jones, but it feels like a desperate old fogey trying to prove he's "with it." The portrait of teenagers is already somewhat dated, and the film's style - sumptuous widescreen - would be considered square, even in Hollywood, within a few years. Since Dear Brigitte came out in '65, it stands at the crossroads of the Old Hollywood and the New. It mixes digital-age opening credits with an old-fashioned "The End" tag at its conclusion, references to a more swinging cinema across the Atlantic with its own master-shot aesthetic, the Golden Age's Jimmy Stewart with the New Wave's Bardot. Indeed, when Bardot finally appears it's as if she's stepped in from a parallel dimension and to see her and Stewart in the same room (mostly ignoring each other) is as surreal any "The Twilight Zone" premise.
Yes, there are no ultra-self-conscious proto-Wes Anderson stylings here to go along with the pointedly offbeat screenplay. And ultimately that's the movie's redeeming value - its sheer sincerity and the sense that, like its tiny protagonist and even his absent-minded parent, Dear Brigitte doesn't quite understand how ridiculous its own scenario is. It's as innocent as an 8-year-old. The movie is slow going at first as it laboriously telegraphs its wackiness, and I almost shut it off a few times but once the plot kicks in, Dear Brigitte becomes more engaging. And in its penultimate sequences, when the little boy's dream comes true, there's an endearingly goofy sweetness. Besides, a few minutes spent looking at Bardot is well worth the investment of two hours. One doesn't have to be a prodigy to figure that out.
Oh, and as for Fox Movie Channel. Let me just quote Dan Callahan, via the Self-Styled Siren:
"It's like there's no actual person programming there. The same ill-assorted ragbag of movies keep playing over and over again, for years. It's not as if they're just playing popular modern movies: at least 50 percent of the films they play are very obscure things from the seventies and eighties. And television stuff, like a nearly 3 hour telepic about Mia Farrow starring Patsy Kensit. !?! (I will confess that that one has an unforgettable scene: Frank Sinatra and Mia, the morning after. He looks at her and says, 'So, Mia...how'd you like it...my way?') Then, out of nowhere, they'll play Clara Bow in 'Call Her Savage.' Or 'Bigger Than Life.' But by the time they're through, you're going to be awfully sick of 'Call Her Savage' and 'Bigger Than Life,' difficult as that is to imagine. They run their movies into the ground by constantly re-playing them."And later:
"My vote is for a computer running everything at that channel. Somebody programmed that motley group of titles years ago, and it just keeps them coming. Then somebody idly pushes a button once or twice a year and lets loose a 'Bigger Than Life.' I say we get some cinephiles together, dress up like cat burglars, break into Fox, and re-program the computer so that it spews out 'Desire' and all the Pre-Code Fox movies, all at once. It would be at least a year before anybody at the company noticed anything was up."