Crazy it sounds, Patsy Cline ballads are the way to win Judge Jesse Ataide's heart.
Growing up has never been more complicated!
For a while there, it looked like C.R.A.Z.Y. was going to forever remain unavailable to American audiences. Despite almost unanimous praise from film festival participants worldwide and its status as a box-office sensation in Canada, its country of origin, the film's soundtrack (filled with songs by David Bowie, Patsy Cline, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Charles Aznavour and numerous others) posed such a copyright nightmare that a limited release in the United States seemed financial suicide.
But now, thanks to Genius Entertainment, C.R.A.Z.Y. is finally getting a chance to develop an audience in America.
Facts of the Case
There has always been something about Zach Beaulieu (Marc-Andre Grondin). After surviving an accident shortly after his birth on Christmas Eve, with no apparent side effects, his mother (Danielle Proulx, Amoureux feu) is convinced that Zach is a very special child, if not actually in possession of supernatural powers. She takes to coddling Zach, the most sensitive of her five sons, which enrages her husband (Michel Cote) to no end.
Years pass, and Zach makes a startling realization during the family's annual family Christmas Eve/birthday party: it's not his attractive, precocious blonde cousin he can't keep his eyes off of, but the athletic male dancing partner she is always clinging to. Zach's ensuing struggles with his sexuality cause difficulties with his brothers, classmates, best friend, and, most particularly, his father, who is adamant that he has not sired a fairy. More years slip by, and then one fateful night, during a dramatic confrontation at his brother's wedding, Zach realizes he has to make some tough decisions about who he really is, and take responsibility for the direction his life is taking.
C.R.A.Z.Y. is a film people get passionate about and finds success through spontaneous word-of-mouth movements. That's how it came to my attention: after a friend saw it at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival he promptly emailed my telling me I had to see it ASAP, and when I finally got a hold of it (by the same friend mailing me a copy of the Canadian DVD release), I enthusiastically recommended it to others.
What makes C.R.A.Z.Y. stand out from the countless coming-of-age stories that have made their way onto film over the years is that director/writer Jean-Marc Vallee seems not just interested in focusing on Zach's perilous sexual maturation process, but in identifying and exploring how Zach must first come to grips with countless other issues: his religious beliefs—social environment, friendships, familial relationships, peer pressure—before he can hope to finding out who he really is. And that turns out to be one of the film's greatest strengths, because while sexuality is a driving force in, well, everything, it never occurs within a vacuum, but is intimately tied to all other aspects of life.
Astutely, Vallee places a particular emphasis on examining Zach's relationship with his family members and how they play an integral part in the formation of his identity. The overly devoted mother who allows her effeminate son to push the baby carriage behind the father's back might be a rather common trope in gay tales, and when it comes down to it, the entire Beaulieu family are familiar stock types—the blustery, overbearing father, the nerdy, bookish brother, the athletic brother, etc., but somehow, through a combination of shrewd direction and undeniable acting, each of the Beaulieus come across as real, fully developed people with their own justified motivations, needs, and desires. And despite their differences and tangled relationships there's also an undeniable undercurrent of genuine care and affection.
Considering that the navigation of the turbulent waters of adolescence and sexual maturation is such a universal experience, C.R.A.Z.Y. is capable of connecting to a much broader audience than most gay-themed films ever could, a quality that should be applauded. At the same time, a real disservice is done by downplaying its nature as a gay film, with a very particular and potent relevance to gay audience members. Personally, C.R.A.Z.Y. played a very important role in my coming-out process; I know several others who were inspired in the same way, and much of it has to do with the film's brutal honesty at portraying the specifics of the development of the gay identity. While the film does ultimately conclude with a rushed, almost tacked-on happy ending, it never shies away from the kaleidoscope of emotions and sensations—more often than not painful—involved when coming to grips with one's homosexuality. Thankfully, C.R.A.Z.Y. doesn't dwell incessantly on the feelings of confusion, denial and self-loathing of the coming out process, but celebrates the exhilaration and hard-earned fulfillment of true self-discovery and sexual satisfaction.
Considering that the film's soundtrack was its largest obstacle to major distribution, it's necessary to devote some space to the topic. With essential tracks from the likes of Patsy Cline, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Elvis, the Cure, the Stories, and many others, C.R.A.Z.Y. would seem to be the next in line of the Zach Braff/Garden State-perfected precedent of a director stuffing a film to capacity with pop songs in an attempt to make a lucrative, stand-alone soundtrack. But while watching C.R.A.Z.Y. one never gets the impression that this is an uber-chic soundtrack compiled for the purpose of selling CDs. Instead, it serves as an essential means for the characters to connect, to each other, their memories, and the past. Each song is very shrewdly integrated into the film's texture and its character development; not only does it establish a very definite sense of time and place, it aids in depicting the passage of years and even decades, it reveals facets of the film's characters that would otherwise be left unexplored, such as the unexpected soft side Mr. Beaulieu's shows while listening to Pasty Cline ballads. Though it might now be considered an iPod-induced reality, C.R.A.Z.Y. depicts how pop music really does serve as a soundtrack for most people's lives, and has for a long time.
The DVD retains the film's original widescreen aspect ratio and the image is overall excellent; the film goes through as many color schemes as it does decades, and the quality of the image quality never falters. Audio tracks on films in a language one doesn't understand are always hard to evaluate, but the music always sounds terrific, and having it on surround sound is a nice touch. Overall, Genius Entertainment has done a great job in bringing this film to DVD. One wishes there could have been something in the way of extras other than the prerequisite theatrical trailer, though once again I can't emphasize enough how exciting it is just to have the film on DVD at all.
As I finish this, I feel moved to dedicate this review to a friend and fellow judge: the late George Hatch. As a judge he is responsible for directing my attention to DVD Verdict in the first place, and always offering constructive feedback on what I wrote. As a friend he played a major, early, and (as far as I know) completely unwitting role in helping guide me to a point that would ultimately lead me to where I am today. Without his influence this is a review I never would, or even could, have written, and I sincerely regret that he will never get to read it. You're missed, George, and you missed out on one great film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Theatrical Trailer
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