When looking for the best ‘gay movies,’ you’ll often find C.R.A.Z.Y at the top of lists. The film came out to immense hype, collecting awards everywhere it went, and stands now as one of the most successful Canadian films of all time, as well as one of most accomplished films in the gay cinema canon. It’s a well put together and mature coming of age movie and works on greater levels than a simple exploration of sexuality.
C.R.A.Z.Y tells the story of a Zachary Beaulieu (Émile Vallée as a child, Marc-André Grondin as a teenager and adult), a boy born on Christmas day 1960. Zac, the fourth of five brothers, has a strong relationship with his Catholic mother Laurianne (Danielle Proulx), but things with his father Gervais (Michael Côte) aren’t quite so clear – dad seems to love Zac most of all, but finds certain elements of the boy’s personality troubling. For example, why does Zac ask for a pram for his birthday? As the film progresses and Zac becomes drawn into the 70s glam rock scene, he becomes aware of two problems in his life – firstly, that he might be gay, and secondly, and more importantly, that he might be an atheist. These two issues drive the film forward, as Zac struggles with his identity, and his family struggle to understand Zac. C.R.A.Z.Y is a film about love, and illustrates that the love between a family is the strongest of all – even if the family members never quite understand one another.
C.R.A.Z.Y is great because it creates believable characters. In any other film, Zac’s parents would be intolerant and spiteful, drawn in broad strokes to make Zac’s struggle with his identity seem unjustly more difficult. Here though, Gervais and Laurianne just act like real parents – they have problems of course, but they love their children, and they try. They aren’t monsters, and in some ways the film is as much about their journey as it is Zac’s. Proulx as the mother is the warm centre of the film, holding the family together through the fights, always wanting what’s best for her children, but it’s Côte who steals the show here. Côte plays Gervais fantastically, coming across at times as a selfish, proud father, yet we always get the impression that he loves his children. It’s a difficult role to pull off, especially in the context of Zac – yet Côte manages to convince as a father who loves his son dearly, but doesn’t have a clue how to communicate with him, let alone understand him.
Zac too is fantastic. Played by young newcomer Marc-André Grondin, it’s a compassionate performance which manages to be funny too. Zac is confident around others but this self confidence does not extend to himself, and he is torn throughout the film – whether to love his father or to hate him, to accept his sexuality or deny it, to seek God or give up on religion altogether. Yet despite all these conflicting emotions, Grondin manages to keep the character grounded, and it’s a believable performance – anyone who has ever struggled with their faith or sexuality will see a bit of themselves in Zac here.
Director Vallée knows how to get fine performances out of his actors, and as a director is great at juggling comedy with drama. The film is funny without ever being silly, dramatic without ever being over the top, and at times really subtle – Zac’s early sexual transgression occurs off screen – we see the effect it has on the characters, but not the incident itself, an idea which sums up the film as a whole; this is about the family reacting to each other, not what the family are doing. Vallée loads the film with religious symbolism too – Zac’s death and resurrection after a car crash suggesting a rebirth in the second half of the film, Zac’s supposed supernatural healing powers which may or may not be real, and of course, the image of Jerusalem which hangs over the film. The film is a spiritual journey more than anything else.
And it’s a journey through music too. Music is so important within the film (the title comes from a Patsy Cline record) and a large portion of the budget was spent on getting the rights to Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and David Bowie – the latter being Zac’s idol, whose glam rock influence floods the film, in style and haircuts and clothes. The soundtrack really locks the film into its era, and C.R.A.Z.Y can be seen as a celebration of the 70s. The decade fits perfectly with Zac’s sexuality crisis (the film wouldn’t have worked in the more open 80s for example) and watching the film is like stepping back in time. It’s a believable 70s, and one relevant to the characters. There’s the sense throughout of a new generation rising, much to the chagrin of the older crowd.
C.R.A.Z.Y stands as a poignant, compassionate film about a family just trying to make sense of one another. It works as a comedy, as an exploration of faith and sexuality, and is well acted and directed throughout, with a stunning 70s soundtrack. It’s a film about people really, their differences and their love for each other, and it’s an impossible film not to like, proving that sometimes a film can live up to its hype. A hugely entertaining film, stylish and nostalgic, it’s a must see.