Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s epic drama “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” has been sitting on the shelf, at least stateside, since its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Boasting Dolan’s most ambitious cast to date — including Kit Harrington, Jacob Tremblay, Natalie Portman, Kathy Bates, Thandie Newton, and Susan Sarandon — “Donovan” was met with jeers at the festival, including by IndieWire’s critic Eric Kohn. At long last, the movie, which had a release in Dolan’s native Canada over the summer, is finally coming to select U.S. theaters and VOD on December 13. Check out a new U.S. trailer below.
Dolan opted not to take the film to Cannes after critics savaged his 2016 chamber drama “It’s Only the End of the World,” which ended up winning the festival’s Grand Prix and connecting with European audiences. Originally, “Donovan,” which centers on a pen-pal relationship that develops between a young boy (Tremblay) and a closeted TV star (Harrington), was set to star Jessica Chastain. But at the last minute, Dolan cut her role entirely from the film, stressing that it had “nothing to do” with her performance.
The genesis of “Donovan” came from Dolan’s early interest in Leonardo DiCaprio. After seeing him in “Titanic,” Dolan ended up sending the then-rising actor a fan letter. “‘Titanic’ is not just the film I loved as a child, it’s the beginning of many things,” Dolan said in a Globe and Mail interview in summer 2019. “Probably a sexual awakening, but also a cultural awakening, a cinematic awakening and a life awakening in that I realized how ambitious the film was. It inspired me to consider all the options I had artistically — that I could act, design clothes, even shoot films. None of these options had ever seemed possible before.”
Dolan’s latest film, “Matthias & Maxime,” earned acclaim at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and, like “Donovan,” still awaits a U.S. release. But Dolan has previously exercised patience when it comes to distribution, as his 2013 psychosexual thriller “Tom at the Farm” took two years to make it to U.S. theaters. In front of the camera, Dolan recently appeared in “It Chapter Two” as Adrian Mellon, a gay man who’s brutally slaughtered in the first scene of the movie.
“The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” will open December 13 throughout theaters in LA, Boston, Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Tampa, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, and Phoenix.