February 23, 2007

C.R.A.Z.Y. is s.w.e.e.t.

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): *** ½

Directed with verve by Jean-Marc Vallée, the French-Canadian dramedy C.R.A.Z.Y. is a fairly engaging coming of age story that mines some familiar territory but does it with a freshness and an inspired cast to raise it to a higher level. It may remind a bit of another French Canadian coming of age film, Leolo - though that one pushed the surrealism much, much further and trode in darker territory. Oddly enough, after winning 10(!) Genie Awards in Canada, C.R.A.Z.Y. never received a theatrical release here in the States. It's possible the lack of a central plot was its undoing for American distributors; the story is essentially that of father and son. The son, Zac, despite feeling like an oddball in a family with three often cruel older brothers and a put-upon mother, wants desperately to be loved by his religiously traditionally father - though the latter, played compassionately by Michael Cote, is thankfully depicted with shades of complexity that keep his character from becoming a standard patriarch.

The interweaving of popular music from the period - the film exists over the course of two decades, the 60s and the 70s, is de rigeur for films of this type but it's expertly done here, integrating into Zac's own fantasies. It may be the personal soundtrack in his own head but it's also the one consistent link in his relationship with his father, a huge music buff (Patsy Cline's song "Crazy" is repeated often in the film and one of her records figures prominently in the story). In fact the whole film has an almost constant musicality to it that keeps it bouncing along even as it nearly overstays its welcome (it feels about 20 minutes too long) - though the final moments are rewarding and heartfelt.

There are quibbles and questions here, certainly, such as: Aren't the brothers a little old to still be living at home? And the religious iconography gets a bit wearying - on the third shot of a Jesus crucifix or a cross necklace, I was already crying out, "Okay, I get it!" Zac's birthday being on December 25th pushes the metaphor further, though as one with a birthday around that holiday time I can attest that the film portrays the perils and frustrations accurately. And, sure, we've seen gay coming of ages stories before - Beautiful Thing or The Sum of Us (also about a father and son) come to mind - but what sets Vallée's film apart is the wonderful performances by the entire cast, most importantly both actors portraying Zac, Émile Vallée as a child, and Marc-André Grondin as a teen - both have the right amount of soulful sweetness, even as Zac ages into moody, angry adolescent.

C.R.A.Z.Y. also captures tenderly the sadness people feel watching each other grow up - "boy you've changed" - and yet how the soul retains the same basic shape from infancy. The film may be imperfect and overlong, but it's also vivid throughout, and there's ultimately a sense of redemption felt with the (happy) ending.

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Posted by cphillips at February 23, 2007 4:32 PM
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