Review: Aline Channels Celine Dion’s Life Story into a Bombastic, Oddball Film that’s Nevertheless Endlessly Watchable

Every now and then—it’s rare, but it happens!—a film comes along that is just an absolute gift of absurdity and delight from start to finish. The head-scratching abounds, but damn if it isn’t a great time from its first moments to the final credits. Enter Aline, a film that has entirely no reason to exist and yet blesses us with its 128 minutes of sheer campiness as it revels in the life, career and over-exaggerated mannerisms of Quebec’s own vocal powerhouse, Celine Dion. Written (with Brigitte Buc), directed and starring Valérie Lemercier, a Cesar Award-winning actress (including, wonderfully, for this role!), Aline makes clear from an opening text card that the film is inspired by the life and work of Celine Dion, but is not meant to be the superstar’s story.

This, then (if you’ll allow me), is something like the beyond meat of movies, a thing that is supposed to be as similar to the real deal as possible yet, with ingredients and manufacturing shrouded in secrecy, is actually just a glorified imposter, one that is nevertheless happily digestible if never as satisfying.

Does one need more of a critique than this? Perhaps not, but I simply can’t resist.

Dion’s life story (at least for those of us who spent our adolescence belting out every track of The Colour of My Love) is relatively well known, from her humble upbringing as the baby of a very large family (14 siblings!) to her relationship with manager (and eventual husband) René Angélil to her epic discography including the best-selling single of 1998, “My Heart Will Go On.” Dion is charisma personified, her passion, energy and take-charge stage presence as much a part of her appeal as her unmatched vocals. There is certainly plenty of a story here to tell in a film; in fact, there are probably ten films to be made, each chapter of Dion’s journey worth its own.

Instead, Lemercier (bless her heart) decides to do it all in this film. Like ALL of it, and it’s glorious.

First, a quick aside: for clarity’s sake, I’ll shift to referencing Lemercier’s characters from now on. Though rest assured, her storyline tracks directly with Dion’s life, from the demo tape her older brother sent to Angélil (here, Guy-Claude Kamar, played by Sylvain Marcel) in 1980 to a weepy interview Dion gave in 1992 when she admitted to being in love but couldn’t say with who (again, Angélil—26 years her senior) to a legendary Oscars performance with a replica of the massive “Heart of the Ocean” diamond set off against a slick black dress.

Aline begins before there is even an Aline; it’s parents Sylvette (Danielle Fichaud) and Anglomare Deiu (Roc Lafortune) we meet first, as they marry and he asserts he’d love a life just the two of them, able to come and go as they please. Jump to the film’s first montage, baby after baby being born into an ever-growing family and a now much older Sylvette finally welcoming baby Aline, who sleeps in a dresser drawer to save space. Aline is only small for a brief few scenes; before long, Lemercier has taken over as the golden-voiced child, this 58-year-old woman playing a 12-year-old girl. The framing of certain scenes around the family dinner table is just silly, try as the filmmakers might to make Lemercier seem tiny and childlike among a room full of grown adults.

From there, the film moves at a quick clip, as Guy-Claude decides to go all in on Aline’s talents and the girl is soon singing on Canadian TV and making a splash with every audience who sees her. Before long, she’s performing abroad and recording albums and falling for her manager and—almost imperceptibly—Lemercier ages up into a young woman, then a wife and mother. The film avoids being too specific about its timeline, opting not to place any years or other context clues on screen, but it doesn’t really matter. This is a roller coaster of a life, and Lemercier let us know from the first climb up that big hill that we’d better strap in and hold on tight for what’s to come.

The only aspect of Aline that outpaces its overstuffed narrative is its bombastic cast, each of the film’s supporting characters doing their level-best to keep up with Lemercier. It’s often posited that an actor does best to interpret a real person by working to inhabit the part rather than imitate it. Lemercier, god love her, throws such a stodgy, un-fun approach completely out the window, unabashedly ramping up the drama in her portrayal of this version of Celine Dion. It’s a performance that is as uncanny as it is confusing, at times eerily Dion-ish and then not at all. That the film is relatively devoid of close-ups of the actress, shots that would remind us that this is just a knock-off of the real thing (cubic zirconia to a pressure-made diamond?), is certainly not a mistake in Lemercier’s filmmaking.

Perhaps most surprising of all is the fact that the film team coughed up whatever sum was required to actually license Dion’s song catalogue, with her music making up not just the scenes where she’s performing but the film’s soundtrack, as well. Blessedly, Lemercier doesn’t also do the singing; that is left to a woman named Victoria Sio, a woman who manages a sound as impressive as Dion herself, I’ll give the film that. Lemercier’s lip syncing, on the other hand? Well, let’s not talk about it. What the actress does manage is every exaggerated mannerism, every iconic lean back into a big note and chest thump for dramatic effect. No one can say she doesn’t give this role of a lifetime her all.

Aline isn’t exactly good by any definition of the word, but it is endlessly watchable and beyond entertaining, perhaps in ways the filmmaker never even intended. Lemercier only came up with the idea for the film while promoting her last one, responding to a journalist’s question about her next project by saying off-handedly that she might make a movie about Celine Dion. I for one will be forever grateful to that journalist, as it was the catalyst for what became this gift to cinema, something both wonderfully ludicrous and divinely well-intentioned. A beyond burger is never as delicious as the real thing, but sometimes, it’s exactly what we need most.

Aline is now in theaters.

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Lisa Trifone

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