It’s not often that a cornucopia of vivid colour and a sonic wave of rock sounds combine in a finessed family drama about fathers, sons, identity and acceptance; however Jean-Marc Vallée’s insightful fourth feature amply achieves the unusual feat. Weaving a cultivated coming of age journey into a chronicle of the formative years of a quirky Quebecois soul, the writer/director’s inimitable C.R.A.Z.Y. unravels the complexities, charms and complications of an ordinary Canadian family and their extraordinary lives.
The birth of second-youngest son Zac in 1960 marks the entry point for the audience, with the sweet, sensitive boy noticeably dissimilar to his rough-and-tumble older brothers. As an unassuming child (played by Émile Vallée, the director’s son), he struggles with his overt and inescapable preference for playing with girls’ toys and dressing up on his mother’s clothing, a conflict between his nature and the ideals of his parents’ nurture that lingers beyond the bounds of adolescence.
Indeed, as the engaging Zac grows from a curious child into a headstrong teen (now portrayed by Bus Palladium‘s Marc-André Grondin) with a penchant for glam rock, his inner urges prove at odds with the wishes of his tough, traditional father (Michel Côté, Fathers and Guns). Desperate to meet expectations, to conform to normality and to please his nearest and dearest, he swings between his and others’ desires, with a resolution between the two not easily earned.
In an array of emotions and aesthetics ranging from earnest discovery to bitter resentment, and exuberant hyper-realism to whimsical fantasy sequences, C.R.A.Z.Y. offers a rich, resonant portrait of its incomparable characters. Whilst the central narrative focus lingers on Zac and his spiritual and sexual awakening, his intriguing interactions with his strict father, accepting mother (Danielle Proulx, Monsieur Lazhar) and diverse siblings – including studious Christian (Maxime Tremblay, TV’s Providence), sporty Antoine (Alex Gravel, 3 x rien), rebellious Raymond (Pierre-Luc Brillant, Borderline) and youngest Yvan (Félix-Antoine Despatie, Vice caché) – are instrumental in shaping the textured tapestry of his youthful existence.
Accordingly, this tender, tragic tale of a boy born on Christmas day as he grows from a misfit into a man is an intimate, intricate representation of recognition and respect in all its guises. Canvassing the ability of parents to love their children regardless of their perceived problems or evident differences, the uneasy dynamic of envy and opposition that exists within large families filled with sparring offspring, and the long road to owning one’s own personality and passions, Vallée’s fragrant film contemplates and celebrates its unique perspective on maturation.
Along the way, confrontation is common as a cavalcade of contrasting opinions and ideologies on gender and sexuality come to the fore. Yet, in his smart and spirited script (co-written with TV scribe François Boulay) and evocative, immersive execution, the director probes the proliferation of factors confounding his characters’ actions but never passes judgement on their darkest doubts and deepest follies.
The authentic, ambitious and often amusing handling of disarming, delicate themes aside, C.R.A.Z.Y. also succeeds as a technical marvel, with the efforts of the cast and crew masterful and magnificent. From the precise production design that so completely inhabits its period setting and particular locale that no other option seems plausible, to the stunning symphony of sound and score – the use of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil and of course Patsy Cline’s Crazy included – the film connects on an visual and aural level.
Performances, too, seethe with creativity and control as well as chaos and catharsis, with the largely inexperienced cast nothing short of exceptional. However, there is never any doubt that the suitably bittersweet, slightly surreal effort is anything other than Vallée’s consummate creation, in personal, poignant film that bursts with enlivened energy and arresting entertainment.