Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Solo features wonderfully detailed sets which give depth and meaning to its characters’ lives, plus fantastic costume work both on and off the stage."

None of us can choose the families we’re born into. Sometimes, like any other kind of relationship, the bond between a parent and a child just doesn’t develop in the way we hope – but unlike other kinds of relationship, this is one regarding which there is very little social support available. In the absence of actual abuse or neglect, people all too often end up trying to deal with the consequences all by themselves.

Opening with the lively spectacle of a drag queen performing to Abba’s Voulez-Vous, Solo is a portrait of a young man who is quietly going off the rails because he’s never been able to come to terms with his mother’s lack of interest in him. His sister, Maude (Alice Moreault), who makes fabulous clothing for the drag queens in the show, seems well adjusted, perhaps because she has made the firm decision not to have anything to do with their mother under any circumstances. Simon (Théodore Pellerin), however, remains excited by the fact that she’s a star, and is happy to place himself back in her orbit when she makes a rare visit to their town. He hopes to impress her with his own star quality. It’s clear from the start that he’s pinning far too much on this, despite having been disappointed in the past.

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This visit coincides with Simon getting into a new relationship with fellow drag performer Olivier (Félix Maritaud), a situation which brings personal and professional concerns a little closer together than many people might consider advisable. They try to resolve this by performing as a duo, which is initially a lot of fun, but when Olivier wants to continue doing solo work as well, a streak of possessive jealousy emerges in Simon. He’s okay, at least in principle, with Olivier sleeping with other people, but cannot tolerate being upstaged by him. Naturally pretty as Simon is, one suspects that he has long ago learned to depend on the attention generated by his looks. He’s not the best performer at the show but he depends a lot on flattery and, when he’s drunk, there’s a dark side to this as he slags off the appearance of the other performers.

At least, that’s what he’s told. The fact that he is increasingly unable to remember what happens when he drinks is an early sign that things are getting out of hand. His colleagues seem concerned, though also annoyed with him and still careless enough to invite him along for drinks when it might be better if he just went home. As the situation disintegrates, he begins to ignore Maude, his only source of real familial love, and to test the boundaries of Olivier’s patience. All of this happens whilst the film rattles along at a lively pace. full of glamorous distractions, making it all too easy for viewers, just like Simon himself, to ignore the fact that he’s heading for disaster.

Screening as part of the 2024 Glasgow Film Festival, Solo features wonderfully detailed sets which give depth and meaning to its characters’ lives, plus fantastic costume work both on and off the stage. It depicts the drag scene with affection and an insider’s grasp of the dynamics between its various stars, most of them older than Simon and better able to manage the intersection of their work and personal lives. His mother’s life is much colder, everything slick and professional. They meet in neutral-toned restaurants and hotel rooms, trying to take on the weight of lonely years in ten minute conversations. Simon is constantly aware that before long, she will leave again. He keeps telling everybody how wonderful she is but sounds more like a fan than a son, and seeks to win her affection by making her a fan of him in return – yet despite all his emotional gestures, the words are not his own.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2024
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The story of Simon, who must deal with the disappointment of two impossible loves: a passionate but destructive crush on Oliver and a distant and cold relationship with his mother Claire, who has just moved back in after a 15-year absence.

Director: Sophie Dupuis

Writer: Sophie Dupuis

Starring: Théodore Pellerin, Félix Maritaud, Vlad Alexis

Year: 2023

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: Canada

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