At one time or another in the life of just about every human being there is a feeling of not fitting in. Whether it comes in high school when you just can’t seem to be a part of the popular clique or as an adult when at work others seem to exclude, there is that feeling that you don’t quite belong. This uneasiness is often compounded by the need to live up to the expectations of a parent. When a person is caught being true to his or her own nature and the need for acceptance internal conflict is only natural. Many films have explored these feelings but few have done so with the humanity of Jean-Marc Vallée’s latest film, C.R.A.Z.Y. There are any number of movies that are classified as family dramas or the so called ‘coming of age’ story but this film has more heart than most. This film explores youthful sexual confusion but it does so in a way that is not meant to shock but instead delves into a purely human experience.
On the surface Zachary Beaulieu (Marc-André Grondin) seems like any one of hundreds of Catholic boys living in Québec during the late sixties and early seventies. Like many of this demographic Zac is part of a large family. He is the second youngest of a brood of boys numbering five in total. His parents, father Gervais (Michel Côté) and mother Laurianne (Danielle Proulx) are typical middle class, hard working people just trying to make ends meet and provide for their sons. Zac was born on Christmas day in 1960. His mother always felt that there was something special about the boy. This did have the affect of creating higher than usual expectations with his parents. His father is an audiophile with a rather large collection of records that include such musical greats as Patsy Cline and Bubby Rich. As Zac grows up he realizes that he is gay. Knowing would be more than a disappointment to his homophobic father the boy tries to hid the fact from his parents which makes being true to himself extremely trying for the young man. His mother has always been convinced that Zac was capable of healing others, a true Christmas miracle child. Zac grows to manhood caught literally between the conflicting demands of nature and nurture. Zac also has to live up to the standards set by his brothers. There is the usual spread of archetypes here, the one who gets in trouble, the studious son, the athlete and the hard worker. Zac just can’t seem to fit into to his conservative father’s view of what a son should be. During the turbulent years of the seventies one of Zac’s brothers, Raymond (Pierre-Luc Brillant) begins to get into drugs. Zac tries to cope with his sexual identity by emulating the on stage persona of David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust. He listens to "Space Oddity" and begins to paint his face like the performer. This only serves to further alienate his father. At this time the family is undergoing some serious changes. Raymond is kicked out of the home and a fifth son is born. Zac continues to rebels, smoking, riding around on his motorbike and generally being an embarrassment to his father. He even tries to pick up girls in order to fit in better but winds up having sexual encounters with other young men while also sleeping with his best friend Michelle (Natasha Thompson). When the issue finally comes to a boil with his father Zac is told in no uncertain terms that this is something that can never be accepted. Having a gay son is tantamount to the worse thing possible for the father threatening his very masculinity. With one son a drug addict and the other gay or at least bi-sexual dad is unable to cope with the problems facing his family and his own self image.
Jean-Marc Vallée’s treatment of the subject matter is excellent. The film does lag a bit and could have used a little bit of editing but overall it is excellent. Vallée is drawing upon personal perspective here and is obviously a man who knows the time period. There is an attention to detail that draws the audience in. You feel as if you were pulled back in time to those years of change. Nicely placed in the mix is the director’s view of the Catholic Church. At this time the influence of the church was waning but for some like Zac’s mother it was all she had to hold on to. Music is very important to the advancement of the characters. While a love for music is something that should bring father and son closer Zac’s father can’t seem to understand why his son prefers Bowie ad the Stones instead of the much better songs of Patsy Cline. The difference in music tastes is an allegory for the growing distance between Zac and his father. There s also an infusion of humor here. It is used to help pace the emotional impact of the film so that things do not cross the line to the melodramatic.
This is not only a well crafted film it is cast to perfection. Marc-André Grondin could have played Zac in an over the top fashion turning this film into another after school special. Instead his performance is from the heart. He captures the depths of his characters confusion and conflict. He allows the audience to empathize with Zac and truly care about his plight. Michel Côté gives a presentation of the father that is wonderful. He portrays this man as one that just wants to get through life providing for his family but finds that he can’t accept how that family has turned out. Danielle Proulx is the emotional balance of the film. Her love for her sons is truly unconditional She is caught between her love for her husband and her sons.
Many people, especially south of the Canadian border, may have been unaware of this gem. Genius Products once again lives up to their commitment to bring independent films to a broader audience. The video is well done with a warm color balance. The audio is in Dolby 5.1 which is great considering the music that is so integral to the story. Many Americans may baulk at a film with subtitles but it is time to let you preconceptions go and open yourself up to a great cinematic experience.