The Films of Jean-Marc Vallée
The Young Victoria
Café de flore (November 14/11)
An ambitious and sporadically electrifying drama, Café de flore examines the lives of both a '60s-era single mother (Vanessa Paradis' Jacqueline) attempting to raise her Down syndrome-afflicted son and a modern-day DJ (Kevin Parent's Antoine) who is juggling relationships with his young girlfriend and his depressive ex-wife. There's little doubt that the non-linear narrative, which jumps back and forth in time with frequent regularity, ensures that Café de flore initially comes off as a somewhat jarring moviegoing experience, with the viewer's patience rewarded as writer/director Jean-Marc Vallée begins developing the various characters and their various problems. (It's also worth noting that the film does, in its early stages, fare best when focused on the Paradis subplot, as there's certainly something inherently fascinating about her character's less-than-effortless existence.) The progressively stirring atmosphere is heightened by Vallée's often astonishing directorial prowess, as the filmmaker offers up a number of engrossing sequences that are nothing short of indelible in their impact - with the best and most obvious example of this an absolutely mesmerizing stretch set to Sigur Rós' "Svefn-g-englar." And although the film occasionally does feel longer than necessary, Café de flore, which climaxes with a jaw-droppingly riveting final ten minutes, primarily comes off as a thrillingly audacious drama that instantly confirms Vallée's place as an up-and-comer worth watching.
Dallas Buyers Club
Inspired by true events, Dallas Buyers Club follows circa 1980s Texan Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) as he contracts the AIDS virus and subsequently grows weary of the medical system's less-than-aggressive approach to the disease - with the character eventually taking matters into his own hands by starting the title organization (which offers alternative treatments to fellow patients). Filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée, working from a script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, has infused Dallas Buyers Club with an almost excessively deliberate feel that's compounded by a less-than-eventful storyline, with the viewer's interest initially held entirely by McConaughey's admittedly striking performance - as the actor, having lost almost 40 pounds for the role, disappears into the shoes of his homophobic (yet sympathetic) character to a degree that's nothing short of astonishing. And although the film boasts better-than-average work from an impressive supporting cast - Jared Leto, cast as an HIV+ transvestite, is especially good here - Dallas Buyers Club has been hard-wired with a straight-forward and all-too-conventional feel that increasingly results in an atmosphere akin to a made-for-television production (ie stripped of flashier elements, there's nothing here separating the picture from a typical Lifetime movie-of-the-week). The by-the-numbers narrative ultimately prevents the viewer from working up any real interest in or sympathy for the protagonist's exploits, with the arms-length vibe, in the end, diminishing the impact of this true-life tale and confirming its place as a well-intentioned yet disappointingly flat bit of filmmaking.
Based on Cheryl Strayed's autobiography, Wild follows Reese Witherspoon's Cheryl as she attempts to recover from a series of personal setbacks by embarking on a solo hike through the Pacific Coast Trail. It's clear almost immediately that filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée is simply unable to elevate the inherently mundane material, as the movie, virtually from the get-go, possesses a punishingly uneventful feel that proves disastrous - with the narrative primarily detailing the less-than-engrossing exploits of the central character (eg Cheryl attempts to pitch a tent, Cheryl gets lost on the trail, Cheryl encounters a bear, etc, etc). There's little doubt, too, that the general absence of an inner monologue makes it difficult to wholeheartedly sympathize with Cheryl's plight, and it is, as a result, clear that the movie's poignant moments are simply unable to pack the emotional punch that Vallée has obviously intended. The film's substantial failure is especially disappointing given the strength of both Vallée's direction and Witherspoon's impressive work, with the latter turning in a thoroughly raw performance that feels, from start to finish, authentic and lived-in. But such positives are inevitably renders moot as Wild drags on and on (and on) over the course of its often interminable 115 minute running time, with the film ultimately establishing itself as one of the most boring well-made movies to come around in some time.