You remember Walk Hard, don’t you? You remember how John C. Reilly played the main character at age 14 onward, and the filmmakers did absolutely nothing to make the 40-something star look 14. Something even more extreme happens in Aline, the French-Canadian music biopic based heavily on the life of Céline Dion. The 58-year-old director, co-writer, and star of the film, Valérie Lemercier, plays the singer from infancy. The filmmakers use CGI to make her the size of a 10-year-old, and yeah, it’s pretty weird. (When they show her in school, the other students are played by other 50-year-old actors dressed like 10-year-olds, and I don’t know whether that makes it weirder or less weird.) Anyway, it plays at the Modern this weekend, and I’m somewhat underwhelmed despite that gimmick.
Dion’s fictional alter ego is named Aline Dieu, who is just like her real-life counterpart in that she grows up as the youngest of 14 kids in a devoutly Christian musical family in rural Quebec. Her mother Sylvette (Danielle Fichaud) plans a singing career for her talented daughter, and when Aline is 12, her mom sends a demo tape to music executive Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel). He puts Aline on TV and her career blows up, but Sylvette is apoplectic when she discovers that 18-year-old Aline has fallen for the balding, twice-divorced Guy-Claude, who is three times her age.
Guy-Claude stands in for René Angélil, who met Céline Dion when she was 12 and wound up marrying her even though he was considerably older. This occasioned whispers of grooming in the music industry, but rather than play this for creepiness, the movie treats it as a romance wholesome enough to make your teeth hurt, which is perhaps the most radical thing it could do. You may feel an unpleasant chill anyway when 12-year-old Aline sings “D’amour ou d’amitié” while staring longingly at Guy-Claude. Lemercier does terrific work imitating Dion’s gawky onstage mannerisms — the singer never quite figured out what to do with her body while singing. Her singing is dubbed by Emma Cerchi as a child and by Victoria Sio as an adult, who does quite the impression of Dion’s voice. The soundtrack is a well-chosen mix of French-language deep cuts and Dion’s biggest hits. (Did you really think they would omit “My Heart Will Go On”?)
Maybe this is just my American sensibility talking, but I spent the entire film waiting for the punchline. That’s 126 minutes of sitting through what feels like a joke without the funny part. Aline comes close to snapping into focus in a climactic montage set to Rufus Wainwright’s “Going to a Town” with the title character walking through Las Vegas, having lived there 14 years without ever seeing the city outside her mansion or the hotel where she performs. It’s true that this movie made me think harder about Céline Dion’s music than any conventional biopic would have. Still, it ends with Aline singing “Ordinaire,” which is about how she lives to please her audience, and I didn’t come to a movie with a 58-year-old playing a 10-year-old just to hear some insight on that hackneyed level. The current The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is better about fame, and certainly more entertaining.
Starring and directed by Valérie Lemercier. Written by Valérie Lemercier and Brigitte Buc. Rated PG-13.