Have you ever had one of those arguments with your family, where things get so heated that you're all yelling at each other and trying to talk over one another? Well, if you sustained that uncomfortable tension for 90 minutes, you'd have It's Only the End of the World.
Xavier Dolan's latest was yet another Cannes hit, a Canadian-French film that both Canadian and French critics loved, but pretty much no one else has. It's grating in a way that few films I've seen have ever been, which is a real shame given the tremendous acting talent onscreen. Gaspard Ulliel plays Louis, who returns home for the first time in 12 years to announce that he has a terminal illness. He's reunited with his sister Suzanne (Lea Seydoux), who was just a kid when he left; his insensitive brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel); Antoine's longsuffering wife (Marion Cotillard); and his overbearing mother Martine (Nathalie Baye). This incredible cast does all they can to make these characters more than walking clichés, but there's only so much they can do with this script, which doesn't spend nearly enough time tracing their regrets and emotions before Dolan cranks the volume up to eleven.
It's not the least bit surprising that It's Only the End of the World is based on a play, where the intimate setting and overacting would have worked better. This is the same issue I had with 2013's August: Osage County, which also focused on death and family resentment and had an amazing cast, but was an ordeal to sit through. Others might see this as a gift: the ability to craft scenes that are this uncomfortable, but it's more of a parlor trick. These scenes never really illuminate much of anything, or dig that deep to any core truths. They're flash for the sake of flash.
In fact, the only interesting part of the film is Dolan's choice of music cues, and that's more for their oddness than their quality. It's not every day blink-182's "I Miss You" is used to underscore a wistful conversation between sister and brother (I actually kind of liked that one). But the decade-plus of meme-ification of O-Zone's "Numa Numa" renders its use here laughable. And Moby's "Natural Blues" to close things out is as painfully obvious as anything in last year's Suicide Squad.
Xavier Dolan is an extremely young director – he just turned 28 – so he's got a long career ahead of him. This was his jump to big-league filmmaking, and it's a swing and a miss. With all the talent involved, that's all the more surprising.