The visual language of childhood imagination is what drives "Starry Starry Night," Taiwanese director Tom Shu-Yu Lin's studied, melancholy movie about a sad young girl who falls for the school outcast.
With her parents' marriage crumbling, art-conscious seventh-grader Mei (Josie Xu) longs to be back at the enchanted cottage of her ailing grandfather, where the pain of real-world matters falls away and the universe seems excitingly vast. She finds a like-minded companion in new kid Jay (Eric Lin Hui Ming), who copes with a similarly broken home life by drawing in his sketchbook.
Mei's refuge is in jigsaw puzzles of famous paintings, but in a movie whose alienation themes are already stylized to a significant extent — through computer-generated dreamscapes, slow-motion and center-frame compositions reminiscent of Wes Anderson — the repeated metaphor of a missing puzzle piece starts to feel synthetic and distancing.
Overall Lin's film is a sympathetic portrait of preteen dislocation, with some resplendent visuals: a snowflake that becomes a tear on Mei's cheek, which falls and bursts on a train ticket. But the cumulative effect is more that of a handsomely crafted museum piece than a moving, emotional journey.
"Starry Starry Night." No MPAA rating; in Mandarin, with English and Chinese subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park.