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Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y., currently playing in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Waterloo (in French with English subtitles), has been selected as Canada’s foreign language film submission for next year’s Oscars, and is riding a not-so-crazy wave of critical and home box office success.

While U.S. distributors have so far shied away from C.R.A.Z.Y., maybe for fear American audiences wouldn’t be able to relate to a quintessentially Québécois film, its broader appeal has already been proven. It was named best Canadian feature film at the Toronto International Film Festival, and tied for audience award for best feature film at the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival. After having made an impressive $6 million in Quebec, the other side of Canada’s two solitudes is now embracing the film as well.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a gay, Catholic, French-Canadian man, but the story of outsider Zac Beaulieu (Marc-André Grondin) struggling to find his identity within his family and within himself resonated and entertained, as did the finely rendered – though humourously exaggerated and often surreal – details of a family life vastly different from my own, but still recognizable in its conflicting emotions.

Zac was born on Christmas Day, 1960, and we follow him through two decades of alternately fighting and succumbing to family and societal expectations. He shares a mystical connection with his mother (Danielle Proulx), who can often feel his physical and psychological torments, and who calls him her Baby Jesus and believes he was given the gift of healing. As a child (played by Émile Vallée, son of the writer-director), he adores his father and is treated by him to special French fry runs without his brothers.

That bond is threatened when dad Gervais (Michel Côté) becomes agitated over Zac’s birthday wish for a baby carriage, and his softness. The relationship is forever altered when Zac smashes his father’s beloved, imported Patsy Cline record. Zac tries in vain through the years to find a replacement, and tries in vain to deny the increasingly obvious fact that he is, as his father has feared all these years, gay.

C.R.A.Z.Y. finds humour in its occasionally serious subjects, and joy in its details. One of its most impressive accomplishments is transporting the audience through the 60s, 70s, and into the 80s with visual and audio faithfulness. The hair, the fashions, the cars, the home decor, and above all, the soundtrack (filled with David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, and yes, Patsy Cline, and which cost a good portion of the film’s $7 million budget) give a wonderful sense of time and place that allows us to enter this C.R.A.Z.Y. world.

But most of all, these are crazy characters we want to spend time with – which is a good thing, because at over two hours, and a brief digression to a middle eastern desert I could have lived without, the plot could not be described as tight. It’s a character study, and the emotional journey of father and son is a trip worth taking.

So why the title C.R.A.Z.Y. as an acronym, instead of Crazy like the Patsy Cline song? It’s a nice little “oooooh!” moment revealed just before the final credits that I’d hate to ruin if, like me, you hadn’t picked up on the reason during the movie.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)