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Review: Air Doll – “There is a faerie tale quality to the story”

A lonely middle-aged waiter gets companionship and sexual gratification from a life-sized air doll that comes to life when he is not around.

In an effort to deal with his loneliness a middle-aged man treats an air doll as a living and breathing companion whether it be having dinner together, having a stroll through a park or engaging in a night of sex.  Things take a fantastical turn when left alone the adult toy actually does become a physically animated being that has a child-like curiosity in experiencing the outside world and then rushing back to the apartment to maintain the lifeless illusion for her owner.

There is a faerie tale quality to the story and performance of Bae Doona as the title character; her naivete and sense of wonder for everything and everyone around her is both endearing and enchanting.   Filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda has some cinephile fun as Doona gets employed at a video store and educated about movies through her colleagues and customers.  The air doll is not completely transformed into flesh and blood as a puncture causes her to literally become deflated and is restored when a love interest patches the hole with Scotch tape and breathes air into what is essentially her bellybutton.  It is a sensual moment that later leads to a misunderstanding which sees the light tone shift to tragedy.

Multiple characters living lonely lives come to an epiphany by the end of the movie but their arcs are muddled and therefore lacking in dramatic impact.  It is hard to exactly pinpoint the message that Kore-eda is trying to convey.  Initially there is a sense of hopefulness but that is undercut by a fatalistic take on life which is not out of place as faerie tales have a heart of darkness.  Clever camera and editing trickery convey the air doll transformations without the reliance of CG.  The saving grace is the Bae Doona who is a marvel with her dramatic and comedic range as an actress. There is no need for showy exaggerated facial expressions and physical gestures as she is a master of being able to subtly convey emotion; it is this skillfulness that makes the Pinocchio scenario a believable event to behold.

Air Doll arrives in U.S. cinemas and VOD on February 4th.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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