Watching a great film, or an interesting but flawed film, leaves me feeling excited about the world and about life – even when the mood of the film is bleak. Bad films, on the other hand, leave me feeling depressed – even when their mood is optimistic. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of the delightful Amelie (2001) has now made two dud but sunny films in a row – Micmacs and this year’s The Young and Prodigious TS Spivet. A ten year-old genius sets off across America on his own to receive a prize at the Smithsonian Institute for his perpetual motion machine. It has all the ingredients for a quirky, profound exploration of childhood, genius, and the meaning of America (road movies tend to be about the meaning of the places they pass through, and this one is to some extent). Yet from the beginning, it’s confused in plot and tone. It has trouble establishing its scenario, introducing the characters on the eccentric Montana ranch badly. Its picaresque structure doesn’t work, as TS encounters various characters on his journey to little real effect. The actors – including Helena Bonham-Carter and Judy Davis – are trying to inhabit characters that are two-dimensional with dialogue that just misfires in every scene. The finale has that most doomed of set-ups, a showdown between the protagonists on live television. At this point, the host says, “But there’s still another nine minutes to go!”; watching from Montana, TS’s sister slumps down in her seat groaning, as I did too. I wanted to like TS Spivet, I really did, but it’s a mess of a film. It feels like a Disney kids’ movie with a few flourishes. But I should also say it’s completely watchable, with a number of charming moments, and I’m sure many will find it a pleasant couple of hours.