Jean-Marc Vallee’s C.R.A.Z.Y., a beautifully constructed passion project that would end up catapulting him to stardom in the independent film world, is, like Cafe de Flore (which only gets better the more I think about it), an ephemeral story of love and acceptance, told in a grand, wondrously musical style that makes Vallee unlike any other filmmaker I’ve encountered, whether through his unique editing process or exuberant direction. While Cafe de Flore explores these themes through romance and acceptance of how it changes, C.R.A.Z.Y. looks at the relationship between a child and the first people we seek love and validation from – our parents.
Choosing this universal experience, this quest that many a child embarks on, lays the ground for this coming-of-age tale that lures the audience into this narrative of eccentricities through nostalgia, whether they grew up in the 1970s or not. Using popular music from the time period, which is always bound to evoke feelings of nostalgia for a large chunk of the audience, and a sweeping vibrance that for the rest of the viewers, it creates an identifiable narrative, one that has a small amount of truth in many lives.
In this scene, Zac (the ‘Z’ in C.R.A.Z.Y.), the family black sheep at the centre of the film, born on December 25th and always feeling different from his band of unique, successful brothers, is suffering through Christmas mass before the yearly party at his grandmothers’ house.
Aah, Christmas mass. It’s a yearly event that many a child has suffered through, including myself every year. It’s boring, it feels like it goes on for an eternity, it’s the same every year, and the weather always sucks (in Australia, it’s like being in a steamer). As a kid who despises Christmas mass and wishes it to be over so you can get home, you devise a way to pass the time. And it largely involves music, which, as Vallee argues in both Cafe and C.R.A.Z.Y., is a powerful tie that binds people together, evoking memories of bygone time periods, relationships, and memories. For me, in the past it’s been singing the entire (and I mean entire) Hairspray soundtrack in my head. For Zac, it’s playing out an elaborate fantasy to a very popular song of the time, Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones.
From the very first scene of C.R.A.Z.Y., it’s a film that relies heavily on the fantasy we all use as an escape. Whether in the form of Zac being told by a family friend he has a healing gift, a ring of cigarette smoke dissipating in front of his father, a slow-motion shot of a newborn Zac falling to the floor as his parents look on shocked, or a priest declaring that “midnight mass is too long, go home and open your presents!”, it’s a film of magical realism that gives Zac solace from his feelings of discontent.
And so, as midnight mass once again drags on too long, Zac finds a way to pass the time – the entire congregation sings Sympathy for the Devil as he rises to the rafters, almost like how Jesus is depicted in numerous artworks, mirroring the fact that his birthday is Christmas, melting into the yearly party, where he is greeted with like a rock star. Momentarily, he finds the acceptance he seeks. He doesn’t hate Christmas. He likes his difference.