Second only to Cher, I find a Celine Dion impression one of the most satisfying to absolutely nail. With the iconic 90s feel of Britney and Shania, and the nigh unreachable technical heights of Whitney Houston, it’s a certain type of achievement when you ace a rendition of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”. French actress Valérie Lemercier is competent at the impression (though the singing is performed by someone else), in the same way that Kate McKinnon is good at portraying Justin Bieber. But under no circumstances does that mean that a biopic spanning four decades of the songstress’ life is needed (nor approved by the woman herself). In her film Aline, Lemercier traverses grounds only attempted by Tommy Wiseau and fails just as miserably (or perhaps moreso, considering that this film will never gather the cult audience of The Room).
Aline is an “unorthodox, unauthorised” two-hour film that feels its length. Directed, written by and starring Lemercier in the lead role, it follows the beginnings, triumphs and tragedies of Canada’s best selling recording artist – played unashamedly in this film by a French actress whose accent stands out even to an unlearned Anglaise comme moi. The rest of the cast are Quebecois and try their best to support this imposter in her increasingly bizarre attempts to depict her then much younger idol, but the result is a stretched (and frankly, cruel) parody of the life of a woman who suffered immeasurable losses only a few years ago.
We open on the history of the Dieu (Dion) family as Aline’s mother and father talk about their future on their wedding day. Her father expresses a lack of desire to have children, and we comedically (?) cut to the first of MANY offspring born to the Quebec couple. Perhaps it’s my childfree contentment, but I don’t find entrapment by childbirth fourteen times to be particularly humorous. Nevertheless, Mrs Dieu gives birth again at the tender age of about 62 to her last child, Aline, who sleeps in a drawer (much like Celine did) to save on space. Our first inkling that this girl might have a gift comes when she is coaxed out from beneath a table at one of her older siblings’ weddings to sing for the congregation. What happened next gave me the kind of icky feeling I hadn’t experienced since they CGI’d Livia Soprano’s head on a stand-in and tried to have her carry on a fluid conversation with her son.
Instead of taking the rational route (say, hiring an actual 12 year old), Lemercier decides to place her own 57 year old face onto the body of a child when depicting Aline in her youth. Without the age-down effects budget of a Disney production, this appears not dissimilar to the Wayans brothers’ travesty Little Man. Certain things were more forgivable in the early 2000s but we are living in times when Deep Fakes are almost convincing, so there really is no excuse for this other than vanity. If you have the mental strength to remember what Renesmee looked like in the fourth Twilight, you can start to prepare yourself for the discomfort.
The film is punctuated by recreations of famous performances from Dion’s discography and Lemercier (or her dubbing buddy) is decent enough at each rendition, turbulent ADR notwithstanding. But there’s a meanness in spirit (unintentional though it may be) to the impression that makes it all feel like an SNL skit. Aline’s childhood ‘ugliness’ is focused on an uncomfortable amount and I had to go back and watch some vintage Celine Dion music videos to remind myself that she didn’t look like a jowly foot in her youth. Memories recounted on talk shows by Celine herself are reenacted here in exploitative fashion, like the moment Aline breaks down while singing “All By Myself” upon hearing from a backstage crew member that her father has died (the same performance that triggered Celine’s very real onstage breakdown while grieving her husband, René). It feels intrusive to bear witness once again to all of these moments, and I wish Lemercier had instead chosen one period of time in the singer’s life to focus on more intently.
In Pablo Larrain’s Spencer, the director cleverly hones in on one event that took place in his heroine’s life at its most tumultuous point. My Week with Marilyn is true to its title (and time allocation). Lemercier chooses instead to attempt a one-woman marathon and as a result, breaks her ankle in the first quarter. Odd jumps in time are explained purely through wig changes and by the time Aline’s age catches up with Lemercier’s, the film is almost over. “A New Day Has Come” in our approach to portraying real people and never is it more necessary than in the age of information. I can’t say I learned any more from this film than I did from a peruse through Wikipedia and a 7 minute YouTube video on how Ryan Reynolds brought Celine Dion back from the ashes. I still don’t really know her, and that’s unfortunate.
Getting through Aline took three self-imposed tequila intermissions and a sudden urge to get up and empty the dishwasher. The night prior, I sat transfixed for three hours through Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car. Perhaps my tolerance for slow burns and classic cars is higher than for trainwrecks, but a two-hour biopic about one of the most prolific musical artists of our time should probably be more interesting. 3/10.