starring Kit Harington, Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Michael Gambon
written and directed by Xavier Dolan
by Angelo Muredda Ex-wunderkind, now regular old late-twentysomething Xavier Dolan follows up the Cannes-awarded It's Only the End of the World with his long-awaited English-language debut, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. Though he has from the start been a confessional filmmaker who, for better or worse, pours himself into his work--revisiting fraught relationships between bratty teen boys and their high-strung mothers and peppering in idiosyncratic song cues from Céline Dion and Oasis--his newest feels even more concretely anchored in his pet interests, telling the story of Rupert Turner, a young, queer child actor (Jacob Tremblay) who strikes up a long-standing epistolary friendship with the eponymous not-out TV star (Kit Harington) that sets the former on a path to adulthood and tanks the latter's career.
As per usual, Dolan indulges his basest instincts--not so much towards self-indulgence, which has in the past netted him some nice if florid set-pieces, as narrative indecision--and all but buries that reasonably interesting conceit of a tender, entirely textual relationship between a developmentally-arrested adult, unable to speak his desires out loud, and an actual boy. Even at their most tonally awkward and clumsily soundtracked, Dolan's films can't help but be watchable, the phoniness of the hopped-up style melting away in the face of his performers' commitment to going all the way. Here, too, Dolan entertains despite his bad taste, at one point yielding a mid-2000s bathtub sing-along to Lifehouse with Harington and his mother--played by Susan Sarandon, who the I'm With Her crowd will be happy to hear is mostly bad--that's just a bit more endearing than it is embarrassing. But this is mostly a pitch for a semi-autobiographical portrait of the artist as a lonely prick surrounded by a series of one-act plays in which Academy Award winners, nominees, and hopefuls listlessly scream at each other over the sounds of whatever power-pop happens to be on Dolan's Spotify playlist at the moment. Programme: Special Presentations