DIFF Review: It’s Only the End of the World

Score: C-

Director: Xavier Dolan

Cast: Gaspar Ulliel, Lea Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rated: NR

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.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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