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‘Aline’ Review: A Faux Celine Dion Biopic as Delightfully Quirky as the Singer Herself

Writer, director, and star Valérie Lemercier has crafted a unique ode to the Canadian diva, as wonderful and wacky as its iconic subject.

Aline Celine Dion

“Aline”

Roadside Attractions

There’s nothing as tired as the Hollywood biopic, but “Aline” is no conventional biopic. While the film makes no effort to hide that it is inspired by the life of Celine Dion, the greatest singer since Barbra Streisand and pride and joy of Quebec, there is a very thin layer of distance between the film’s events and Dion’s life. Though it can sometimes read like a Wikipedia entry, the effort by writer, director, and star Valérie Lemercier to fictionalize as much as possible can be chalked up to one thing — respect.

Renaming the singer Aline Dieu and playing the character herself (through, yes, every age), Lemercier grounds the larger-than-life diva with a down-home quirkiness that feels true to life, even if we don’t know how true it is. Surprisingly funny, well-acted, and a little offbeat, “Aline” is as delightfully kooky as its monumental subject.

“Aline” begins its rags-to-riches tale in the Quebec countryside, where a working class young couple falls in love over their shared love of music. With his accordion and her fiddle, they compose an alarming 13 babies in a whimsical sequence, as mother Sylvette (Danielle Fichaud) calls out an endless roster of French names. When she finds herself pregnant yet again, she wonders if she’s up to the task. Naming her “last baby” Aline after a French song she hears on TV, Sylvette is a hearty pillar of maternal affection and a stage-mother’s ambition.

Throughout the film, Sylvette is Aline’s biggest fan, fiercest protector, and occasional foil. A beloved acting coach in her native Quebec, Fichaud is the most exciting discovery of “Aline.” Like a Quebecois Imelda Staunton or June Squibb, she is the perfect candidate for a late-career renaissance in any project requiring a formidable older woman with impeccable comedic timing and a deep well of emotion.

It takes a bit longer for Lemercier’s unique charms to come through. Her peculiar choice to play Aline at every age, including her childhood years, casts a surreal veneer over the film’s early chapters. Though clearly meant to be funny (Lemercier is primarily known as a comic actress in her native France), Lemercier and the production took great pains to fake her child size, constructing giant chairs and coats to make her look smaller and apparently using body doubles for some scenes.

Perhaps the comedy gets lost in translation, but Lemercier’s goofy kid-like mugging is little more than distracting, if not downright unsettling. The only scene with “five-year-old” Aline shows her singing at her brother’s wedding. Though nearly indistinguishable from the real thing (shoutout to singer Victoria Sio), every song in the film is lip-synched, so it’s not as if she was needed to do the singing.

Aline Celine Dion

“Aline”

Roadside Attractions

There is, however, one other reason not casting a child actor makes sense: The romance between Aline’s devoted manager and love of her life Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel). The 26-year age gap is less pronounced with Lemercier in the role throughout, and Aline’s self-determination in knowing what she wanted from such a young age rings more true. The romance closely mirrors Dion’s longtime marriage to her own manager René Angélil, with whom she had three children. Careful not to alienate Dion’s devoted fanbase and the largely Quebecois cast, “Aline” highlights the emotional toll it took to hide their love for so long.

Only Sylvette is allowed to voice her concern, accusing Guy-Claude of taking advantage of the young girl and attempting to steal her baby. But the film also shows how Aline cradles a photo of Guy-Claude every night, and sings every performance directly to him. His own reticence to declare their love, mostly because of what it might do to her career, is also explored. “Aline” may be loosely inspired by Dion, but its reverence is entirely genuine.

Though Aline’s rise to fame begins to mirror the well-trodden arcs of the conventional pop-star biopic, the film doesn’t dwell too much in the exhaustion of tour, the lonely nights, and the unkind publicity. Yes, we see a few of these scenes, but the human story remains center stage. Aline never loses touch with her family, talking with Sylvette daily on the phone and keeping her brother and sister nearby as tour manager and childcare. Guy-Claude is not a punishing manager over-scheduling her, but an indefatigable cheerleader reminding her of her raw power and ability to connect with audiences.

Most surprising of all, the film is lighthearted and quite funny, as in one scene where the entire family crowds around the telephone waiting for Guy-Claude’s first call. Like Dion herself, “Aline” is artistically serious without taking itself too seriously. It’s goofy, a little offbeat, and entirely one of a kind.

Grade: B+

A Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films release, “Aline” opens in theaters on Friday, April 8. 

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