"As far as I can remember, I've hated Christmas," recalls Zachary Beaulieu (Grondin) in voice-over, and at its most superficial C.R.A.Z.Y. is how 'The Wonder Years' might have played out if Kevin had grown up gay and French-Canadian Catholic.
A real family movie (even the title is derived from the initials of five brothers), C.R.A.Z.Y. charts the tricky trajectory of closeted gay adolescence, although it's chiefly concerned with inter-generational ding-dongs, wearing its sexuality beneath its crushed velvet sleeve. As director Jean-Marc Vallée stresses, "the theme of the film is personal acceptance... about the struggle to express yourself and being honest in the moment", and such soft-soaping is probably one of the reasons it's cleaned up back home in Quebec.
At the time of writing, it's grossed over US$5 million in a province of 6.5 million people; as the producers remind us, "nearly everyone in Quebec has seen this movie". On the other hand, their cousins across the border have all but ignored it, and it's tempting to see in C.R.A.ZY. parallels between the two territories' relationship, in the film's themes of 'otherness' and awkward isolationism.
Emphasising Zac's 'otherness', his initial entry into the world on 25 December 1960 owes more to the horror genre, with the emphasis on bloody birthing tables and foreboding incubators; a beast is born (and he will indeed end up slouching toward Bethlehem in the film's third act). Furthering the anti-Christ imagery, he's also comes furnished with a strange birthmark on his scalp, which his mother Laurianne (Proulx), with whom he shares a strange psychic bond, believes denotes the gift of healing - a blessing, "for good or ill".
Almost immediately, however, he's dropped on his head by his resentful brothers (the "Three Morons"), heralding the movie's tragi-comic tone, and foreshadowing two decades of spills, thrills and hard knocks. Most all these ensuing scenes will be filtered through family life or Zac's inner life (we never see him in class or at work). If his brothers - sporty, rebellious and egg-headed - share little in common with their sensitive sibling, their bullish patriarch, the Charles Aznavour-crooning Gervais (Cote), initially takes a shine to his youngest son, taking him out on secret French fry-guzzling expeditions and attempting to curb his doting wife's cooing indulgences.
Gervais puts his foot down when she buys Zac a doll's pram, determined his son won't grow up to be anything less than a man's man. "I knew very well what a fairy was," says Zac. "I especially knew I didn't want to be one." Understandable, really; this is a man whose homophobia extends even to the gospels: "Sometimes I wonder why we pray to a long-haired guy who hangs out with a bunch of guys in robes", grumps papa. Nevertheless, Zac prays to Jesus every night to make him less "soft".
Predictably enough, everything goes awry after Zac accidentally smashes his father's rare Patsy Cline import - and especially when he's caught trying on his mother's dresses and pearls. "I can still remember the snow melting on his face; I had just turned seven, and had unwittingly declared war on my father." Zac is sent to a psychiatrist after Gervais spies him apparently making out with another boy and, succumbing to parental peer-pressure, he beds his best friend Michelle (Thompson). He also beats up a 'gay' stalker in a misplaced display of machismo. Offsetting the hardships, temporary salvation comes in the form of David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones. Trying to find himself, Zac eventually winds up in Jerusalem, where he takes a lover (a man this time) and nearly dies in the desert, before returning home to make peace with his father, prompted by his offering of a replacement Patsy Cline LP he's coincidentally found at an Israeli market stall.
There's a lot to like about C.R.A.Z.Y., in its soapy way. The soundtrack for one thing: during one glorious scene, Zac imagines himself levitating above a church pulpit, as the congregation sings joyously to 'Sympathy For The Devil'. It's like Todd Haynes meets Dennis Potter. But it's during these fantastical musical interludes that the film really soars.
The hairstyles, fashions, décor are what you'd expect from a 1970s-set drama though interestingly, nestling among the Bruce Lee posters and period LPs in Zachary's bedroom is Pink Floyd's 'Animals' - released two years after the scene is set, in 1975. It could be an honest oversight, of course, but it's possible to ascribe a more timeless tale taking precedence over historical verisimilitude. As Morrissey once lamented, "this story is old, but it goes on," and C.R.A.Z.Y., featuring much Bowie-worship, inter-generational conflict and agonised self-discovery, could be set pretty much anywhere, at any time in the Western world during the past 30 years.
Grondin as the teenage Zac ably conveys his anguished plight and, though mostly ciphers, the supporting cast also put in decent performances, Côté and Pierre-Luc Brilliant (elder brother Raymond) in particular. However, at two hours-plus, C.R.A.Z.Y's in danger of overstaying its welcome, while the ending is one of the few bum notes in an otherwise well plotted movie; homophobia vanquished in one fell swoop by a Patsy Cline record? Oh, the irony.