Every now and then, a film comes out to such rave reviews that it gets smothered by its own praise. Such films sweep award ceremonies and baffle box office expectations, but by the time you actually get round to watching them, the hype has become too big – the movie simply cannot live up to its giant reputation and, as such, is a disappointment. You’d be forgiven for thinking C.R.A.Z.Y. was such a film. Released to immense hype, the film collected awards everywhere it went, and stands now as one of the most successful Canadian films of all time. Surely a small-scale coming of age comedy can’t be that impressive? Yet C.R.A.Z.Y. stands as a rare example of a film which not only lives up to its reputation, but completely surpasses it. Sometimes, it seems, hype can be justified.
C.R.A.Z.Y. tells the story of a Zachary Beaulieu (Émile Vallée as a child, Marc-André Grondin as a teenager and adult), a boy born on Christmas day in 1960 (a fact Zac forever resents – those who share their birthdays with Jesus tend to get overshadowed), and through whose point of view we watch the film unfold. Zac, the fourth of five brothers, has a strong relationship with his Catholic mother, Laurianne (Danielle Proulx), but things with his father, Gervais (Michael Côte), aren’t quite so clear – dad seems to love Zac most of all, but finds certain elements of the boy’s personality troubling. For example, why does Zac ask for a pram for his birthday? And why is he so sensitive compared to his brothers?
The film follows Zac as he grows, through the ‘70s and into the ‘80s, and all the while his unusual (to Gervais at least) personality traits threaten to isolate him from the family. Zac, drawn into the ‘70s glam rock scene, becomes aware of two problems in his life – firstly, that he might be gay, and secondly, and more importantly, that he might be an atheist. These two issues drive the film forward, as Zac struggles with his identity and his family struggle to understand him.
Mirroring Zac’s track is that of his brother Raymond (Pierre-Luc Brillant), who becomes lost in a world of sex and drugs – a world he may not escape from. Really, though, C.R.A.Z.Y. is a film about love, and illustrates that the love between a family is the strongest of all – even if the family members never quite understand one another…
One of the reasons the C.R.A.Z.Y. is so great is that it creates believable and likable characters. In any other film, Zac’s parents would be intolerant and spiteful, drawn in broad strokes to make Zac’s struggle with his identity seem unjustly more difficult. Here, though, Gervais and Laurianne just act like real parents – they have problems, of course, but they love their children – and they try. They aren’t monsters, and, in some ways, the film is as much about their journey as it is Zac’s.
Proulx, as the mother, is the warm centre of the film, holding the family together through the fights, always wanting what’s best for her children, but it’s Côte who steals the show here. Côte plays Gervais fantastically, coming across as a selfish, proud father, yet we always get the impression that he loves his children. It’s a difficult role to pull off, especially in the context of Zac – yet Côte manages to convince as a father who loves his son dearly, but doesn’t have a clue how to communicate with him, let alone understand him.
Zac, too, is fantastic. Played by young newcomer Marc-André Grondin, it’s a compassionate, tragic performance which manages to be funny also. Zac is confident around others but this self-confidence does not extend to himself, and he is torn throughout the film – whether to love his father or to hate him, to accept his sexuality or deny it, to seek God or give up on religion all together. Yet, despite all these conflicting emotions, Grondin manages to keep the character grounded, and it’s a believable performance – anyone who has ever struggled with their faith or sexuality will see a bit of themselves in Zac here.
The soundtrack really locks the film into its era, and C.R.A.Z.Y. can be seen as a celebration of the ‘70s.
Pierre-Luc Brillant is excellent as Raymond, too, managing to be both antagonistic but loveable, in the way older brothers always are. His tragic story reflects Zac’s, and the two are much closer than the characters would ever admit. Vallée more or less ignores the other brothers, who simply exist in the background, but generally the family are likable, and the audience really want to see them get it together. You really feel like you know this family by the end of the film, almost as though you were one of the brothers yourself.
Vallée, then, knows how to get fine performances out of his actors, and, as a director, is great at juggling comedy with drama. The film is funny without ever being silly, dramatic without ever being over the top, and, at times, really subtle – Zac’s early sexual transgression occurs off screen, so we see the effect it has on the characters, but not the incident itself, an idea which sums up the film as a whole: this is about the family reacting to each other, not what the family are doing. Vallée loads the film with religious symbolism, too – Zac’s death and resurrection after a car crash suggesting a rebirth in the second half of the film; Zac’s supposed supernatural healing powers which may or may not be real; and, of course, the image of Jerusalem which hangs over the film. The film is a spiritual journey more than anything else.
And it’s a journey through music as well. Music is so important within the film (the title comes from a Patsy Cline record) and a large portion of the budget was spent on getting the rights to Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie – the latter being Zac’s idol, whose glam rock influence floods the film, in style, haircuts and clothes. The soundtrack really locks the film into its era, and C.R.A.Z.Y. can be seen as a celebration of the ‘70s. The decade fits perfectly with Zac’s sexuality crisis (the film wouldn’t have worked in the more open 80s, for example) and watching the film is like stepping back in time. It’s a believable ‘70s, and one relevant to the characters. There’s the sense throughout of a new generation rising, much to the chagrin of the older crowd.
C.R.A.Z.Y. stands as a poignant, compassionate film about a family just trying to make sense of one another. It works as a comedy, as an exploration of faith and sexuality, and is well acted and directed throughout, with a stunning ‘70s soundtrack. It’s a film about people really, their differences and their love for each other, and it’s an impossible film not to like, proving that sometimes a film can live up to its hype. A hugely entertaining film, stylish and nostalgic – it’s a must see.
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