Families rule. Or so I’m told.
After being away for so very, very long, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) finally returns home to, hopefully, let his whole family what he’s been up to, what his future plans are, and oh yeah, that he’s probably going to die pretty soon. Of course, though, that one last piece of knowledge seems like it’s going to be a lot harder to get out – not because it’s so tragic and heart-breaking, making it all the more difficult to actually tell loved ones about, but because his whole family is so loud, so tense, and so wild, that he can’t even get a word in edgewise. For instance, there’s his older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel) and wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard) who, for some reason, can’t think of anything to say to him; Catherine is almost too nice and sincere, whereas Antoine is just constantly angry, over just about everything. Then, there’s Louis younger-sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux), who he still holds a very close relationship with all of these years later, despite the obvious separation. And then last, but certainly not least, there’s Marianne (Natahlie Baye), who still loves Louis no matter what, but also seems to have her hands a bit full with, well, stuff.
It’s odd how It’s Only the End of the World seemed to come and go, without anyone really making a big stink about it. Considering that writer/director Xavier Dolan has become film’s sort of “It Boy” who makes smart, understated, and incredibly pretentious dramedies about difficulty challenging people, it’s weird to see this movie not just get a mixed reception, but barely even hit theaters in the States. It played Cannes, got a weird reception, and that was about it.
But did it really deserve that? Not really.
Granted, It’s Only the End of the World is a bit of a step down from what Dolan has done in the past few years since he showed up, but it’s also another sign that, despite his age, the man’s ambitions are endless. Even with something as small and as freakishly intimate as It’s Only the End of the World, it’s hard to tell just where Dolan’s limits are reached; he seems to go above and beyond the source material’s obvious stagey-ness, and in doing so, shows that he’s adept to other styles, and not just his own. Of course, the movie’s very talky, loud, and almost abrasive, but that’s sort of the point and it fits well with what Dolan does best: Allow for his fragile, complicated characters be themselves.
And in It’s Only the End of the World‘s case, that’s actually fine. There’s no denying the fact that the characters here are all loud-mouths and a little nuts, but there’s also no denying that there’s at least some fun in watching it all play-out. Dolan’s a smart director/writer who knows when it’s best to call down his own little directorial tricks and sort of just let the cast do what they do best, and here, with this small, yet solid ensemble, he does just the ticket. Everyone here is good, with perhaps Cotillard’s more subtle, somewhat subdued performance being the best apart from all of the craziness, getting the chance to play the material up, have some fun, but also uncover a bit of a darker, more emotional side to it all, too.
But the issue with all of this also comes down to character-development, which honestly, can’t be found here.
Sure, this may have a little something to do with the subject-material itself not quite having everything that’s needed for a feature full-length, but it also does come down to Dolan himself, who seems like he cares too much about the performances, and less about what’s going on beyond them. In his past few movies, despite all featuring great performances, Dolan hasn’t forgotten to at least give us some small crumb of character, in whoever he chooses; the performances themselves may be big, loud and bombastic, but at the same time, there’s something going on underneath it all to work.
In It’s Only the End of the World, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of that there and it ends up hurting the movie. See, it’s one thing to have a bunch of loud, angry characters yelling all of the time and constantly fighting, but it’s also another thing to see all of that, and have no idea why any of it is happening. Dolan runs into the issue of just setting his dysfunctional characters down in the same room together, let them spar, and expect us to forget about everything else that matters; no matter how entertaining these verbal-battles get, there still seems to be something missing, like a rhyme or reason why.
And honestly, we never get that.
Just small, subtle hints about why these characters are all so pissed-off and yelling, but never anything else. And that’s an issue. It’s an issue when your whole movie revolves around a bunch of people for an-hour-and-a-half, but it’s also an issue for your movie when you decide to shoot each and everyone of these characters in extreme close-ups. Once again, there’s no denying the artistry of Dolan, but yeah, sometimes one needs to cool themselves down a bit.
Consensus: Smart, engaging performances can’t make up for the fact that It’s Only the End of the World is a little too repetitive and thinly-written to become the masterclass in storytelling that Dolan’s previous films were.
6 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire