The prodigiously talented Xavier Dolan makes a rare misstep with this shrieking melodrama, a messy effort which never equals the sum of its enviable parts.
It’s an extraordinary film in many ways, but unusually for Dolan, the bad more often than not outweighs the good. So oppressive is the direction, and the manner in which the performances are framed, that It’s Only the End of the World feels like a rare achievement – Dolan has adapted a play for screen, and has somehow actually given the text less room to breathe. At least on stage our eyes would be free to roam beyond the snarling faces of the cast.
One of the strongest – and yes, star-studded – French casts assembled in years feels wasted on this script and these characters. It’s immediately obvious that this family despises each other, but the deeper-lying reasons why are smothered by the yelling. Ulliel’s terminally ill protagonist holds an irritatingly faraway, almost misunderstood teenager-like gaze throughout as he is berated by his family. He’s so smug at not being “one of them” that it’s not hard to see why they dislike him.
Despite the histrionics, the film is as visually lush (though claustrophobic) as you’d expect, as a nostalgic orange glow makes us wistful for what could have been had Dolan approached this text a little more expansively. His exemplary ear for an unexpectedly perfect contemporary music cue remains undiminished, however, with potentially jarring decisions simply making sense in the moment. It’s captivating – in a trainwreck kind of way.
Restrained by the limits of the play on which it’s based, then restrained a little more by some baffling creative decisions, Dolan’s latest is never as deep as it aspires to be, or could have been. Nevertheless we await his next with bated breath.
CAST: Gaspard Ulliel, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye
DIRECTOR: Xavier Dolan
WRITERS: Xavier Dolan (screenplay), Jean-Luc Lagarce (based on the play by)
SYNOPSIS: A terminally ill writer (Ulliard) returns to his estranged family after a 12-year absence to tell them that he is dying.