Contrived Céline Dion biopic "Aline" is a train wreck
Starring Valérie Lemercier, Sylvain Marcel, Danielle Fichaud, Roc Lafortune, Antoine Vézina and Jean-Noël Brouté. Written by Valérie Lemercier and Brigitte Buc. Directed by Valérie Lemercier. Opens Friday at the Fox Theatre. 123 minutes. STC
⭐ (out of four)
“Aline,” the contrived biopic of a fictional Quebec singer who’s “freely inspired” by Céline Dion, may not be the worst movie of 2022. The year is still young.
But “Aline” will surely be the year’s weirdest movie.
Directed, co-written and starring French entertainer Valérie Lemercier, whose ego is apparently boundless, “Aline” poses a question no reasonable person asked: What would happen if a star-struck 57-year-old Céline Dion fan wanted to portray the superstar chanteuse on screen from age five right up to her late 40s?
The answer: Nothing worth watching, unless you find train wrecks fascinating.
Lemercier plays the fictional Aline Dieu in a story that closely follows Dion’s own life: the youngest child of 14 from a blue-collar Québécois family, whose crib was a dresser drawer, who rises by dint of hard work and ambition to achieve international acclaim, a record-setting Las Vegas concert residency and a 40-room mansion to call home.
Unconvincing special effects and makeup are used to shrink Lemercier down to child size and attempt to mask her age. She also morphs into a 12-year-old and various adult ages over the course of two numbing hours.
You read that correctly. In an otherwise pedestrian progression through many of the signal events of Dion’s life, Lemercier has opted to abandon all credibility by insisting on playing the singer, via her avatar Aline, from child to preteen and right on up to middle-aged adult.
She’s the five-year-old Aline, hiding under a banquet table at her sister’s wedding before being coaxed out to serenade guests with the treacly ballad “Mamy Blue.”
She’s the 12-year-old Aline, meeting for the first time Guy-Claude Kamar (the placid Sylvain Marcel), a divorced man 26 years her senior who declares her “a diamond in the rough” and agrees to become her manager. He’ll later also become her lover and then her husband, despite the disapproval of her mother, Sylvette (a fiery Danielle Fichaud), who declares him to be “an old prune.”
(This tracks what happened in real life to Dion. She met her future manager/lover/husband René Angélil in 1980, when she was 12 and he was 38. She married him in 1994, with more than a few eyebrows being raised, and proceeded to have three children with him before his death in 2016.)
Lemercier also plays the 40-plus Aline, dealing with the cost of fame, the demands of family and health concerns and the general tragedy of life.
It’s jaw-dropping and downright creepy to watch Lemercier in action. It’s not unlike the experience of seeing Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard,” staring at her old movies inside her dusty mansion and declaring cinema to be too small for her.
I found myself wishing for the years to hurry up and pass, so that Aline would at least be an adult when portrayed by Lemercier. She bears little resemblance to Dion apart from a rail-thin physique and a flair for theatrical stage gestures as she lip-synchs to Dion songs that in the movie are sung by an off-screen Victoria Sio, who does a reasonable job imitating Dion’s soaring and sentimental vocals.
The scene where 20-year-old Aline first sleeps with Guy-Claude, after years of infatuation (she caresses his photo every night), is strangely one of the least unsettling moments in the film. That’s because what we see on the screen are not a 20-year-old woman and a 46-year-old man in bed but rather two middle-aged people who could be any old couple.
Such cognitive dissonance makes it hard to pay attention to the main thrust of the story, which Lemercier and co-writer Brigitte Buc frame as a standard high-cost-of-fame narrative via the Dion ballad “Ordinaire,” which has lyrics lamenting the loss of self: “The more you give, the more the world wants.” Aline just wants to be a regular gal, the kind who announces her pregnancy to her husband by making a smiley face out of a plate of puréed vegetables.
The film rushes through some of the biggest moments of Dion’s career, such as her 1988 win at the Eurovision Song Contest, where she first came to international recognition while singing as Switzerland’s representative. We also barely glimpse her onstage at the 1998 Academy Awards, singing her Oscar-winning tune “My Heart Will Go On” from Best Picture winner “Titanic.”
“Aline” concentrates mainly on the French tunes from the Dion songbook, probably because Lemercier, in a rare moment of clarity, realized that the primary audiences for “Aline” are francophones in Quebec and France, not anglophones in the rest of Canada or the world.
This also explains one of the film’s weak attempts at levity, involving a plate of soup in her Vegas dressing room. The soup goes cold while her hairdresser and personal dresser Fred (the agreeable Jean-Noël Brouté) is getting her ready to go onstage.
She declines his offer of a new bowl of soup and instead heats it back up with a hair dryer, declaring it to be “the Quebec style,” much to the astonishment and dismay of the fastidious Fred, who is from France. In a later scene, Fred presents her with a hot bowl of soup, lifting a silver lid to declare it to be “the French style.”
The joke might be lost in translation, but not the mocking inference that Quebecers are inferior to their brethren in France.
But Dion does have a lively and wacky sense of humour, something she’s never hidden. A few years back, she made fun of her flashy Vegas persona by doing a spoof video with fellow Canuck Ryan Reynolds for her “Deadpool 2” soundtrack contribution, which is viewable on YouTube.
The strangest thing of all about “Aline” might be that Céline Dion apparently made no attempt to stop Lemercier from making it.
Dion deserves way better than this. Maybe she actually finds this film funny. Or perhaps she’s waiting for a time when a proper biopic can be made with age-appropriate actresses for the different decades of her life.
Let’s hope that happens soon, so we can more quickly forget the freak show that is “Aline.” 🌓
(This review originally ran in the Toronto Star.)
Danielle Fichaud, left, Valérie Lemercier, centre, and Sylvaine Marcel, right, in "Aline." Lemercier, directs, co-writes and stars in this bizarre biopic based on the life of Céline Dion. Lemercier plays Dion from age five to her late 40s. She's seen here playing the title character Aline at age 12, digitally shrunk down and with makeup to mask Lemercier's real age, 57 at time of filming. (Photo: Jean-Marie LeRoy.)