Movie Review: C.R.A.Z.Y 10/10
One of my all time favourite Canadian movies is the 2005 film, C.R.A.Z.Y. co-written and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. I have seen this French-Canadian flick approximately 12 times and still get excited when I see it listed in the television guide. The title comes from the Patsy Cline album of the same name - an album the main character, Zach Beaulieu’s, father buys as an expensive import and treasures until Zach inadvertently breaks the vinyl. (Zach is superbly played by Marc-André Grondin.)
The movie is a coming-of-age story that follows the sturm und drang of Zach’s adolescence into a adulthood. Given Zach’s staunch Catholic upbringing, one immediately senses that all is not well when Zach begins exhibiting homosexual tendencies. Soon after requesting a baby carriage as a gift, as well as being caught dressing up in his mother’s clothes, Zach experiences his father, Gervais Beaulieu, (played by Michael Coté) pulling away from their formerly close relationship, furthermore withdrawing his affections. Zach is clearly confused by Gervais’ withdrawal and attempts to determine what he’s done wrong. Meanwhile, Gervais (also confused) blames Zach’s mother for his effeminate behaviour citing the mother’s coddling, as well as her indulgence of Zach’s nurturing side. Zach also has an extremely volatile relationship with his second eldest brother, Raymond (played by Pierre-Luc Brillant). Raymond is confused by Gervais’ special treatment of Zach as Raymond discovers his usually calm father goes off the deep end whenever Zach is called a ‘fag’. Many fist fights erupt as a result of this word being thrown at Zach.
Everyone seems to have their specific triggers and rather than openly address things like relationships, drug addiction, sexual orientation, lying, religion, etc., they tip-toe around each other, trying to avoid any trigger discussions. Familial love is shown during the men’s’ fierce defense of each other, usually behind each others’ backs. Often these physical scraps erupt over misinterpretations of alleged insults, or miscommunications. Too much damage results from their actions so they are unable to undo these mistakes.
Along with being preoccupied with his sexual identity, Zach has to endure being 'special' as he is declared to have “special healing powers” for burns, cuts etc. The household phone is often ringing with family and neighbors calling to ask Zach to recite his special prayers for their injury-of-the-moment. Of course, they telephone again to inform him the injury is healing. Zach comes to realize that the injuries inevitably get better whether he thinks of the person or not, but his mother cannot bear to believe he is ordinary as she has always felt Zach was different due to his birthday being on Christmas day, and having died - then lived - during birth. He was also born with a white streak in his hair and this lack of pigmentation was further proof of his specialness.
The film studies the brothers’, Christian, Raymond, Antoine, Zachary, and Yvan, different personalities and interactions. Zach both despises and idolizes Raymond for his wild, tough-guy image. While maturing, Zach notices subtle attractions towards certain males and the occasional female. These brief glimpses cause Zach to ponder the possibility of being gay, causing him to pray fervently to God and Jesus to make him anything BUT gay. My heart breaks for this attractive young man as he is fighting so hard against everything that comes naturally to him. Again I identify with Zach because, in his desperation to be straight, he is making all sorts of side-deals with God. As well, he is setting up mini feats that - if he is successful in completing them - will pronounce him as heterosexual. How many times, when I was desperate for a specific outcome, did I make little agreements with God to ensure positive results? I never did explain to my mother I was merely fulfilling my end of a deal with God, when I was attending my friends’ church functions every Friday night for several weeks.
Even the English subtitles do not take away from the film’s humor, as well as its forays into self-discovery and loss. I identify closely with the main character’s pain of adolescence despite not having anything in common with him or with the general theme of the movie. Perhaps it’s the musical timeline that makes me feel so connected to this film. I especially empathize when the main character – while obliviously lip-syncing to Davie Bowe’s “Space Oddity” - is abruptly shut down by his brother, to the cheering of the entire neighborhood. How many times was I spared the humiliation of being caught lip synching to my favourite band?
A lot of the film’s humor, as well as tragedy, is derived from the lack of communication and the hypersensitivity between the characters. A couple of times Zach’s innocent actions are incorrectly identified as homosexual intimacy by over-sensitive brothers and father. The father is further conflicted between his love for his children and his refusal to accept homosexuality as anything but a choice. Even Raymond’s drug addiction is accepted before Zach’s hedonistic sexual identity. The movie deftly shadows Zach’s search for his identity and his need to belong: during his sessions with a psychiatrist, during his live-in romance and experimentation with a woman, and finally during his escape to Jerusalem where he accepts that he is, indeed, gay.
The movie ends with several bittersweet moments, the most ironic being when Zach is able to finally replace his father’s Patsy Cline album, Crazy (although it took him a trip to Jerusalem to find it). No sooner had Zach’s father happily accepted this gift from him – thus opening the door for other reconciliations - when Zach’s brother Yvan, drops and breaks the record album, mirroring Zach’s incident over a decade prior. This is when Zach disbelievingly connects Patsy Cline’s title to the first initials of the boys’ names: Christian, Raymond, Antoine, Zachary, and Yvan = CRAZY.
I would love to read others' reviews of this movie. I consider it one of Canada's finest offerings.