The first time you see “the effect,” you’ll puzzle over the “Benjamin Button” idiocy of it all and ponder “What in the French-Canadian F is this?”
Because SOMEbody thought the idea of digitally de-aging and shrinking the star of “Aline” to have one actress play an undisguised portrait of Celine Dion from age 12 to the present day — she’s 54 — was a good idea. And we all know who that idiot was.
If French director, co-writer and star Valérie Lemercier was living in America, she’d have not just pricier, inferior health care. She’d have long ago gotten that “Welcome to AARP” card in the mail. LONG ago.
This may be the most delusional star turn since the silent film era, a woman pushing 60 pretending to be 12 lip-syncing to Celine’s earliest hits, sung in “Aline” by Victoria Sio.
The result is instant camp. I mean INSTANT. Do the gays know about “Aline?” This fromage has “cult” film written all over it.
This sentimental portrait of a working poor Quebecoise, an “ugly duckling” among a family of 14 children growing up to be the premier belter of her day, Queen of Vegas and all that manages to be sympathetic and profoundly unflattering at the same time.
Born “the baby” in a huge and musical Catholic family in rural Quebec, we see Aline’s first public appearance — singing at a brother’s wedding — rendered with edits that never let us see the the whole child, at age five. That grotesque digital effect and vocal looping kick in as we’re showing Aline all but taking over the family act, leading her mother (Danielle Fichaud, deliciously earthy) and singing, hustling older brother Jean Bobin (Antoine Vézina) to realize they have a star on their hands.
She may be an indifferent student at school, but by age 12 they write her a song and get it to a grasping, hard-luck talent manager, Guy-Claude (Sylvain Marcel), who travels from “Is that really you singing?” to “I’m gonna make you a star” (in French, with English subtitles, with later scenes in English) in a heartbeat.
Young Aline becomes the Princess of Quebec, the darling of Canada and a sensation in France before her doting, savvy manager advises — over her family’s objections — a long break, so that her singular voice can mature and she can be made over for reintroduction to America and the world.
Braces, English lessons, jazzercise classes to give this gawky provincial “grace” on stage, and then this Extreme Makeover: Music Edition returns to the limelight and conquers the world.
With or without Dion’s blessing and cooperation, the script takes great pains to show that it was the girlish Aline who pursued “more than twice her age” manager, the man coaching and doting on her and carefully protecting/directing her every move on her way to the top.
Aline’s mother confronts her — “This is utter NONSENSE, Aline!” — and threatens Guy, but to no avail.
“Aline” then charts the star and her manager keeping their secret, Aline breaking down on TV rather than admit who she sings all these tender love ballads to, their marriage and long struggle to have children and keep her “No vegetables, BEEF” diet spouse healthy and alive through eventual pregnancies and her years-long Vegas residency.
Lemercier isn’t a bad actress (fans of French cinema will remember her from “May Fools,” Selena Gomez fanatics will recognize her from “Monte Carlo”). She does a decent job of recreating the adult Celine’s stage act, and the film is picture perfect at mimicking the Oscar night sensation Dion made when she sang the Oscar winning “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic.”
The women share swanlike physiques and just enough dance skills for the film to pull off the skinny star in a Big Stage Show numbers.
And the touching moments can be genuinely moving, in a corny, old fashioned musical bio-pic way.
But when you’ve started out camp, it’s hard to go back. One finds oneself wondering what other outlandish tricks Lemercier has up her sleeve. Will she send up this May-Late October romance? Will the “makeover” sequence include a nose job? The real Dion denies ever having one and the fake Celine looks nothing like the real one, thanks to a prominent Gallic prow.
It’s almost disappointing that the movie plays things more or less straight after that jarring first act. The sanitized love affair with her father-figure manager and everything else is so conventional that the argument could be made that this would have been nothing more than Hallmark Channel picture had that loopy stunt not started off the proceedings.
Then again, that opening “epic fail” and descent into camp allows us to laugh off the entire enterprise, which can’t have been from Lemercier and her enablers had in mind.
Rating: PG-13 (Some Suggestive Material|Brief Language)
Cast: Valérie Lemercier, Sylvain Marcel, Danielle Fichaud, Roc Lafortune and Antoine Vézina
Credits: Directed by Valérie Lemercier, scripted by Brigitte Buc, Valérie Lemercier A Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn release.
Running time: 2:08