The whole family can feel comfortable watching "C.R.A.Z.Y.," Jean-Marc Vallee's bouncy coming-of-age tale that coasts along on a terrific soundtrack and a spot-on feel for period detail. Story of a tight-knit Catholic family and their sexually confused son never goes near anything that might make mainstream auds uncomfortable, sticking with an old-fashioned tone balanced by inventive lensing that gives only the illusion of dipping its toe in risky waters. Local biz has been boffo, a good indication of high B.O. potential across the board -- sales at Venice were said to be brisk.

The whole family can feel comfortable watching “C.R.A.Z.Y.,” Jean-Marc Vallee’s bouncy coming-of-age tale that coasts along on a terrific soundtrack and a spot-on feel for period detail. Story of a tight-knit Catholic family and their sexually confused son never goes near anything that might make mainstream auds uncomfortable, sticking with an old-fashioned tone balanced by inventive lensing that gives only the illusion of dipping its toe in risky waters. Local biz has been boffo, a good indication of high B.O. potential across the board — sales at Venice were said to be brisk.

Christmas, 1960: Laurianne Beaulieu (Danielle Proulx) gives birth to her fourth son, Zac. The family is a tight-knit and loving clan, with outgoing Dad Gervais (Michel Cote) considered a pretty cool father whose insistence on singing along to Charles Aznavour at holiday gatherings is more a source of sheepish enjoyment than childhood embarrassment. Even as a kid, Zac (helmer’s son Emile Vallee) is Dad’s favorite, but Gervais keeps a watchful eye to make sure he grows up to be a man’s man.

Despite Dad’s attempts to ensure a straight son, he’s unable to sway Zac’s interest in playing with baby carriages and dressing up in Mom’s pearls. Laurianne is more indulgent, recognizing her son has a “special quality.” But, Zac himself, even at 7, is desperately hoping he’s not a “fairy.”

Just like his father, for whom Patsy Cline and Aznavour are the twin deities of song, music is the gateway to Zac’s highly developed fantasy life, and Vallee is at his most creative when he’s got a pop song blaring on the soundtrack. An exuberant levitation scene in church, to the accompaniment of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” marks 15-year-old Zac’s entry into his confused yet idiosyncratic teen years (Marc-Andre Grondin now takes over the role).

Trouble hits when Gervais thinks he spies Zac making out with a boy and hauls him to a shrink. Zac still isn’t willing to accept his orientation, and succumbs to pressures from best friend Michelle (Natasha Thompson) to start sleeping together.

When Zac finally acknowledges his sexuality during a heated argument, Gervais tells him it’s the one thing he can never accept.

Surrounding cast are stereotypical, particularly Zac’s brothers, who have roles such as egghead or sports fanatic. Only wastrel brother Raymond (Pierre-Luc Brillant) gets anything to work with. Risk-free portrayal of sexuality is treated coyly throughout, and Vallee is careful not to show anything that might offend.

The two-hours-plus running time could easily be trimmed, although enthusiastic thesping helps keep the ball rolling. Cote and Grondin are especially fine at fleshing out the conflicted love of father and son, while Proulx is a welcome presence whenever she appears.

Patrice Bricault-Vermette’s art direction is stand-out perfect, miraculously capturing the era without making it seem forced. Vallee’s feel for music, from Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is one of pic’s most enjoyable features; helmer reportedly took a salary cut to pay for the numerous song rights.

C.R.A.Z.Y.

Canada

Production

A TVA Films presentation of a Cirrus Communications, CrazyFilms production. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Pierre Even. Co-producer, Jean-Marc Vallee. Executive producers, Jacques Blain, Richard Speer. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee. Screenplay, Vallee, in collaboration with Francois Boulay.

Crew

Camera (color), Pierre Mignot; editor, Paul Jutras; production designer, Patrice Bricault-Vermette; costume designer, Ginette Magny; sound (Dolby Surround), Martin Pinsonnault; associate producer, Nicole Hilareguy; casting, Daniel Poisson. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Venice Days), Sept. 3, 2005. (Also in Toronto -- Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 125 MIN.

With

Gervais Beaulieu -- Michel Cote Zachary (Zac), 15-21-years-old -- Marc-Andre Grondin Laurianne Beaulieu -- Danielle Proulx Zachary (Zac), 6-8-years-old -- Emile Vallee Raymond -- Pierre-Luc Brillant
With: Maxime Tremblay, Alex Gravel, Felix-Antoine Despatie, Mariloup Wolfe, Jean-Louis Roux, Francis Ducharme, Helen Gregoire, Johanne Lebrun, Natasha Thompson. (French dialogue)
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