Review: Inspired by Celine Dion, the musical drama ‘Aline’ is glossy, sincere and weird
It’s easy to forget that movies are often just somebody’s flighty dream filtered through a process designed to make it palatable, only that sometimes the effort deepens the eccentricity. That’s not always a bad thing, even if, in the case of Valérie Lemercier’s glossy fable “Aline,” inspired by the life of singer Celine Dion, the swoop of its romanticism and oddness can sometimes seem like you’re eavesdropping on the private role-playing of a worshipful schoolgirl in a poster-lined bedroom.
Lemercier is a César-winning French star of stage and screen, and a director with a handful of breezy comedies under her belt, so we’re not talking about some wide-eyed Dion fan paying tribute with an elaborate bauble before returning to obscurity. And yet for all the ways “Aline” is a head-scratcher, it’s got a kooky sincerity about talent, fame, trust and love. Like a lush ballad that’s somehow both off-key and in total harmony, it’s unlike anything else out there, and certainly more interesting in its swings and misses than a lot of the machine-stamped celebrity biopics littering the movie landscape these days.
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Though Lemercier and co-screenwriter Brigitte Buc’s telling is a fictionalized account, it’s unmistakably Dion-ish in the key details: Aline Dieu (Lemercier) is the youngest of 14 born to a French Canadian couple of modest means. When Aline shows some beyond-her-years vocal chops in her early teens, she secures a record contract that introduces her to a decades-older, twice-married manager, here named Guy-Claude (Sylvain Marcel). As her star ascends, love blooms, and a singer who was once an awkward, friendless kid finds fulfillment as a beloved icon, devoted wife, caring mother and headlining queen of Las Vegas.
But to fully appreciate the earnest rhapsody of showbiz achievement and personal happiness Lemercier has to offer, you have to giggle and eyebrow-raise your way past a 50-something performer’s decision to play Aline starting in childhood. Using face-compositing effects here, scaled-up sets and props there — always quite obviously, never seamless — it’s simply an off-putting approach when the early scenes already exhibit a kind of colorful playhouse charm about a supportive family. Is Lemercier trying to suggest Aline is an old soul in a girl’s body? Is it filmmaker vanity? A lost bet? It’s not exactly clear — but it’s flippin’ weird.
It does, however, get you used to the director/star’s unfussy, straightforward depiction of an open-hearted, goofy, hard-working talent whose sensitivities are real but whose dedication to making it is formidable. The lack of music biz cynicism in this mostly cheery rags-to-riches story is peculiarly refreshing — it’s a timeline of high points, sure, but in the elegant widescreen tableau of ever-increasing wealth and fabulousness, Lemercier still finds satisfying dollops of quirk, warmth and bonhomie. If you shake your head at times, you might also smile, and even feel a measure of sympathy.
That being said, if you’ve always looked askance at the origins of Celine Dion and René Angélil’s relationship, you won’t find kinship in Lemercier’s generously scented version. While the movie acknowledges how it looked — Aline’s protective mother, winningly played by Danielle Fichaud, stands in for skeptics who must be won over — it is committed to Aline and Guy-Claude as devoted, in-synch soul mates. (In real life, Lemercier and Marcel are the same age, which while helping her uncomplicate the portrayal is also a bit of a dodge.)
Don’t expect a whole lot from the use of music, either, unfortunately, which toggles clumsily from diegetic decoration to commentary (“Nature Boy” is a motif) to hit-song year marker. In the no-nonsense concert scenes, mostly coming off like interludes or career signposts rather than illuminations of character, Lemercier — sporting Dion’s more well-known outfits, hairstyles and graceless but confident moves — effectively lip syncs to Victoria Sio’s uncanny approximation of their subject’s virtuosic range.
They did pick a fitting performance capper, however: the chanteuse’s lament “Ordinaire,” which is just ridiculous enough in its humble bombast — “You see me as a goddess / I’m a woman” — to make sense as an immodestly declarative coda to this curious, hardly commonplace pop biography.
In French with English subtitles
Rated: PG-13, for some suggestive material and brief language
Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes
Playing: Starts April 8 in general release
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