Have you ever wanted a pram for Christmas and been given table hockey instead?

Zac Beaulieu (Marc-Andre Grondin), the fourth child of a middle-class Quebecois family comes into the world on December 25th, 1960. As a child, his Christmas/birthday presents are always large, but somehow disappointing, since they are never what he truly wants. His father Gervais (Michel Cote) disapproves of the aforementioned pram, which his mother reluctantly returns. Zac worships his father, an active family man with a passion for Patsy Cline and Charles Aznavour, but Gervais senses early that Zac is not like his brothers.

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Bookish Christian spends much of the film quietly reading food labels. Raymond is the black sheep who turns early to motorcycles, drugs and casual sex. Antoine is the jock who never seems to outgrow his childlike flatulence. After Zac, there is Yvan, the baby, who is cosseted and overfed, with pettishly long hair. It is not until much later, in a mishap over a cherished Patsy Cline import, that Zac realises his father has (rather campishly) named his five sons to spell out the letters of his favourite Patsy Cline song. A testament to Gervais's sentimentality, as well as his connoisseurship of music, it also sums up the tone of this rambling, sometimes pleasantly surreal family drama/coming-of-age story.

Much of the film's action takes place in the Seventies and early Eighties, during Zac's teen years, as he struggles to come to terms with his sexuality. The early religiosity of Zac's childhood, exemplified in the figure of his devout and frequently pregnant mother, is soon replaced with teenage rebellion, memorably expressed in a scene where he tells us in voiceover: "Midnight mass was so short and sweet ever since I became an atheist," as he levitates over the congregation to the tune of Sympathy For The Devil.

Although he professes to have abandoned his faith, Zac is the kind of teenager who is always getting caught in his transgressions and then submitting himself to trials of atonement. In order to overcome both his asthma and his sexual longings, he races a red light on his moped and ends up bedridden with whiplash for several weeks. Another time, he trudges all the way home in a blizzard after simply looking at another man in a record shop.

Throughout the film, Zac's quest to come to terms with his sexuality is expressed via a longtime crush on his cousin Brigitte and her Travoltaesque boyfriend, who early on bestows a "shotgun", the passing of marijuana smoke between pursed lips in an almost-kiss that provides Zac with his first real sensual experience with another man. When a psychiatrist finally suggests that he is being "subconsciously deliberate" in his actions, Zac still cannot accept that he might be gay and drives himself into the arms of his childhood friend Michelle (Natasha Thompson).

His bid for heterosexuality lasts until a watershed confrontation at his brother Christian's wedding in 1980 sends him running off to the Holy Land to escape. In Jerusalem, he has his second sexual encounter, this time with a guy who looks like a blonde version of the hunky Jesus you sometimes see in "youth" versions of the Bible. Only after coming close to death in the desert, does Zac return to Quebec and his family.

Although C.R.A.Z.Y is in part a gay coming-of-age story, it's told without the explicit sex one might expect, making this film much more in line with the work of Gus Van Sant than Gregg Araki. The privacy that is accorded to Zac's experiences (his two sexual encounters with young men happen off camera) is actually somewhat refreshing, with a subtlety that seems far more in keeping with the character's reluctance to come to terms with being gay. The film is also a sometimes bizarre family drama infused with a mixture of the qualities that make French Canadian cinema great: devout spirituality, odd folklore and the kind of irreverent humour that fundamentalists think ought to go straight to hell.

It is filled with quietly hilarious, but also cringe-making moments, such as the time Zac earnestly sings along to Ziggy Stardust in full Ziggy make-up, until the moment Antoine storms in and tackles him. It is only then that Zac realizes half the neighbourhood has been viewing his performance through an open bedroom window. It also doesn't hurt that the actor who plays Zac is considered Canada's Gael Garcia Bernal (according to the Internet Movie Database, anyway) and spends a lot of time looking handsome in tight jeans and eyeliner.

Of course, you should enjoy C.R.A.Z.Y for its sharp wit and the fact that the production designer went to the trouble of painting one wall of Zac's bedroom to look like the cover of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, but just in case those things don't matter to you, you should see it because Grondin is dreamy.

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2006
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C.R.A.Z.Y. packshot
A son looks for paternal acceptance as he grows up in Sixties and Seventies Quebec.
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Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writer: François Boulay, Jean-Marc Vallée

Starring: Michel Côté, Marc-André Grondin, Danielle Proulx, Émile Vallée, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Maxime Tremblay, Alex Gravel, Natasha Thompson, Johanne Lebrun, Mariloup Wolfe, Francis Ducharme

Year: 2005

Runtime: 127 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada


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