Growing up in suburban Quebec in the 1960s, 7-year-old Zac is deathly afraid of disappointing his father, desperately praying that he won't become what his macho dad seems to hate most: "a fairy." When Dad catches him dressed in Mom's jewelry, cooing over the new baby, the jig is up:
"I had just turned 7 and unwittingly I had declared war on my father," Zac says.
It's the kind of heartbreak you'd expect from a coming-out tale, but C.R.A.Z.Y. is more than just a "Mom, Dad, I'm gay" flick. Director Jean-Marc Vallée has crafted a rich, complex and entertaining coming-of-age comedy that's both spiritual quest and family drama.
Vallée and co-screenwriter François Boulay follow Zac played by a trio of actors, including the director's son from his Christmas Day birth to a tragedy involving one of his older siblings some 20 years later.
At first, Zac is the favorite child of his father, Gervais (Michel Côté). They share a love of music (lots of Patsy Cline and old Francophone crooners), ride in shiny, fast cars and take field trips to a favorite food stand. But Zac starts to fall out of favor as Gervais grows suspicious of his son's idiosyncrasies. He'd rather have gotten a baby-doll carriage than a hockey game for his birthday, and his mother Laurianne (Danielle Proulx) is certain Zac is gifted with healing powers.
As Zac gets older, Gervais keeps a watchful eye on the boy, secretly cheering when he suspects Zac groped his girlfriend, and flipping out when he catches his son jerking off in the back seat of his car with a male schoolmate.
Zac, meanwhile, spends most of his energy trying to suppress anything that might make his dad or family suspicious of his sexuality. He also rebels against their religion, dismissing his mother's faith in God and the Catholic Church, and her certainty of his own healing powers. After all, why hadn't he been able to "cure" himself?
Where other directors use catchy soundtracks as mere nostalgic window dressing, music is the central component of Vallée's storytelling. Zac goes from admiration to mockery to disgust as his dad spins his cherished Patsy Cline LPs, or sings along at parties to Charles Aznavour (something of a French Sinatra). When Zac was 7, Gervais seemed so cool but at 20 he thinks his dad is out of touch. Then it all comes full-circle, and a dusty old LP becomes the catalyst for a father-son reunion.
Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" and the Cure's "10:15 Saturday Night" mirror teenage Zac's emotional development he's mixed up and feels like an outsider, but longs for something different, something his dad's mainstream point-of-view won't allow.
Vallée uses heavy doses of religious symbolism as well, sometimes laying it on too thick. Zac's mom urges him to pray to the Baby Jesus because they share a birthday; but when he makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to find himself not so much spiritually as sexually the connections seem too forced. It doesn't help that his first big, gay encounter there is with a longhaired guy who looks like Jesus.
It's easy to forgive Vallée the few trespasses, as the rest of the movie is so well scripted, acted and shot. C.R.A.Z.Y. has all the trappings of a subpar memoir, but it's much more than that. Zac's story is filled with repression, religious confusion, redemption and forgiveness and Vallée captures it well, with the bonus of a great soundtrack and a keen sense of humor.
In French with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237), at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 10-11, and at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.