- C.R.A.Z.Y. by Robert Schwartzwald
Jean-Marc Vallée's C.R.A.Z.Y. is a bittersweet coming-of-age story about a gay character named Zac (Marc-André Grondin), who struggles throughout his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood to find his place among his eccentrically conventional family and earn the respect of his charming, but shamelessly homophobic father, Gervais (Michel Côté). The film was the biggest critical and commercial success of 2005 in Quebec and, over a decade after its release, it remains among the ten top-grossing movies ever made in the province. As such, C.R.A.Z.Y. is unquestionably deserving of a book-length study; and Robert Schwartzwald's contribution to the "Queer Film Classics" series, edited by Matt Hays and Tom Waugh for Arsenal Pulp Press, certainly delivers an eloquent, informative and insightful examination of the film. As would be expected of a single-film monograph like this one, Schwartzwald's short volume provides a detailed account of the film's production history (26-39), a nuanced reading of its intricate narrative structure (44-50), sophisticated visual composition (50-62) and evocative musical score (77-93), as well as a discussion of the broader Québécois (63-74) and gay (117-131) cultural contexts within which the film operates. Moreover, Schwartzwald does a good job of accounting for some of the linguistic subtleties that might be lost in translation for an Anglophone spectatorship. For instance, his accurate interpretation of the expression "tu m'en feras pas un fifi" (113) goes a long way to demonstrate the manner in which Vallée and his co-author, François Boulay, use every-day French Canadian idioms to construct a complex and multi-layered script.
But what comes as a most pleasant surprise is Schwartzwald's unexpected critique of C.R.A.Z.Y.'s putative status as a "queer classic". C.R.A.Z.Y.'s queerness is especially dubious in terms of its happy ending, which shows a saccharine reconciliation between Zac and Gervais who, even in his old age, still refuses to discuss his now middle-aged son's sexual orientation. As Schwartzwald pointedly asks:
Is it problematic, then, to speak of C.R.A.Z.Y. as a queer film? Certainly, if by queer we mean a work that has at its core the refusal to stabilize categories of gender or sexuality. C.R.A.Z.Y. is quite orthodox throughout in its representation of sexual difference as a chance occurrence, but all the same innate [End Page 121] and incontrovertible […] Nor is C.R.A.Z.Y. queer, if by that we would mean that it critically explores the fluid ways in which sexual practices and identities are alternately included or excluded from what Gayle Rubin calls the "charmed circle" of social legitimacy […] In the narrator Zac, the film has arguably produced the sexually non-threatening and ultimately deferential gay citizen who has won his position inside the "charmed circle" of the early twenty-first century.(136-137, 138-139).
It is refreshing to read a book that does not simply assume the undisputable merit of its subject-matter only because it happens to have been deemed worthy of inclusion in a "classics" series.
Highly manipulative in its calculated insertions of beloved "oldies" and classic rock favorites on the soundtrack, deliberate references to the quaintness of 1960s Quebec, and unapologetic reliance on melodramatic clichés, such as maternal sacrifice, unrequited love and violent sibling rivalry, C.R.A.Z.Y. comes across as a skillfully-crafted mainstream film that never aims to shock or disturb its audience. As Schwartzwald suggests, its gay content could easily be dismissed as just a trendy variation on the conventional sexual-awakening trope of the coming-of-age narrative. But ultimately, the author chooses to redeem C.R.A.Z.Y and claim that, in spite of its penchant for homonormativity, it remains a valid film from the perspective of queer spectatorship. Indeed, for Schwartzwald "Zac bestows grandeur and vicarious vindication upon...