Born on Christmas Day, so he never gets proper birthday parties and his mother attributes religious powers to him. Dropped at birth, even. Three older brothers. One father determined to root out even the slightest inclinations of sissiness -- when he wants a baby stroller for his fifth birthday, his father buys him a huge hockey game instead. On top of all that, teenage and later young adult Zac Beaulieu is worried that he might have homosexual inclinations, which in the 1960s and 1970s, was even more difficult to deal with than it would be now.
C.R.A.Z.Y., which screened at aGLIFF this week, is not simply a coming-of-age and coming-out story. The movie's true focus is on a turbulent, changing father-son relationship. At an early age, Zac breaks one of his father's rare prize Patsy Cline albums, and throughout the film we see Zac searching for another copy, as if this will make everything better with his dad (Michel Cote).
The Beaulieus are by no means a perfect family, but they're not a typical Hollywood-movie dysfunctional family, either. With five sons, the parents each have their favorite child: the father favors Raymond, who is always getting into trouble with women, drugs, and money; but the mother (Danielle Proulx) dotes on Zac, whom she is sure has hidden healing powers because of his birthdate. Although the point is made that Raymond's destructive lifestyle doesn't earn him nearly as much ill-will as Zac's quite mild ventures into non-heterosexual experimentation, director Jean-Marc Vallee doesn't hammer you with this point or make it a clear-cut issue. The film never settles for sentimental or cloying moments. The relationships in this movie, overall, are rough and complex and ambiguous. Zac fusses at his brother Raymond for cadging money from everyone, and the two of them fight ... but Raymond later gets an envelope with money in it and knows it's from his little brother.
The movie spans a long period of time for a feature: from 1960 through 1980, plus a more contemporary epilogue. The filmmaker uses period music to set the mood, from Elvis Presley to David Bowie, plus the music that Zac's father loves: Patsy Cline and Charles Aznavour. It reportedly cost $600K to secure the music rights for this film, and it shows -- Vallee didn't settle for second-rate or obscure tunes, and even uses the Cline song referenced in the film's title. (The title is made up of the first letters of each of the five sons.) The film also employs some nice effects involving still photos and onscreen flash cameras. The filmmakers and the younger actors did a great job of ensuring that the multiple actors playing Zac and Raymond at different ages are all believable as the same characters.
The running time of C.R.A.Z.Y. is 127 minutes, and I grew restless near the end because of the length. The film could have used a trim -- several of the early childhood scenes are amusing but not absolutely crucial to the central themes of the film. By the time Zac was 15, the film started to drag a little, and the resolution seems to take longer than necessary. Fortunately, that fabulous soundtrack helps keep us interested and alert.
Zac's mental and physical suffering as he faces the possibility he might be gay obviously struck a chord with the sold-out aGLIFF audience watching the film -- you could hear murmurs of sympathy, and the kind of laughter that comes from someone who has been there before, and survived. However, C.R.A.Z.Y. succeeds by touching on the kinds of events that could happen to any of us. My dad never caught me doing something taboo in the front seat of his car, but the changing relationships of parents and children is a universally touching message.
[C.R.A.Z.Y. won the Best Canadian Feature award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005, and was awarded ten Genies. This week, the film also received the aGLIFF Soundpost Feature Film Director Award, in which the filmmaker is awarded $130K in post-production music services -- judging from the soundtrack of .C.R.A.Z.Y., it's a prize that Jean-Marc Vallee can really use.]