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The Life and death of John F. Donovan (official trailer)

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The most recent film by Xavier Dolan has come out this weekend in Montreal, to mixed reactions we may say. The narrative  engages the viewer at both ends of the film: at the beginning, as the story unfolds through the recollections of an adult Rupert Turner (Ben Schnetzer) when being interviewed in a café in Prague by Audrey Newhouse (Thandie Newton); and then again at the end, when the drama seems complete. It is in the middle when things get at times confusing and an excess of characters, many of them irrelevant, make the story lose its focus.

Dolan, a young Quebec filmmaker who has excelled in doing incisive exploration into human emotions, especially those of gay people, and in the relationship between his characters and their mothers, does it again. Young Rupert (Jacob Tremblay) is a precocious eleven-year-old, who questions the abilities of his mother to raise him. Sam Turner (Natalie Portman) in turn tries to do her best but is at times overcome by the demands of her child, whose aspiration is to become an actor and a writer. TV star John F. Donovan (Kit Harington) for his part also has a complicated relationship with his mother Grace (Susan Sarandon).

Back in 2006, Donovan was Rupert’s idol.  As soon as the boy got home after school, he would sit in front of the TV to watch Donovan in action. Rupert decides to write to Donovan, and to his surprise, the actor answers his letter, and that would mark the beginning of a long period of exchanges between the two. When Rupert, during an oral presentation in class, makes public the exchange between the two, a series of events that would have serious repercussions are unleashed.  Donovan would have a difficult time trying to explain to his agent (Kathy Bates) the situation that has been created after the disclosure of his correspondence with the British boy.  However, the movie just leaves to us to imagine the repercussions of the occurrence.

As in previous films, Dolan once more reveals his ability to deal with the complex psychological issues of his characters.  But in this case, the story –potentially moving and engaging– tends to lose its appeal due to turns not always justified, which lead at times to an overloaded narration. A film that is interesting to see, but not as good as previous works by Dolan.

Running time: 127 min

By: Sergio Martinez – info@mtltimes.ca

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