TORONTO-When writer-director Jean-Marc Vallée met with the Georgia Straight, things were just starting to go crazy for C.R.A.Z.Y. His comic coming-of-age film about a gay son connecting with his father was already a hit in Quebec and was generating great buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival. But it was still a few days away from winning the festival prize for best Canadian feature, about a week away from C.R.A.Z.Y. being named Canada's Academy Award entry as best foreign film, and months away from it breaking the $6-million mark at the box office.
But Vallée (Liste Noire, Los Locos) was already delighted with his film's early success. "Two thumbs up! I feel like a kid at Christmas Eve, unwrapping gifts. I'm very excited, thrilled, and touched and impressed," Vallée said, grinning like a kid who has just opened the present he wanted most.
Despite his delight, Vallée always had big plans for C.R.A.Z.Y. (which is a reference to both the Patsy Cline standard and the initials of the five brothers in the film). Vallée's plans-and budget-were actually so big that when he finished the script, he didn't think the movie could be made in Canada. "I didn't censor myself. I didn't hold myself from writing something with fantasy and magic. This is what we do in Quebec, is we know we don't have big budgets and we write ourselves more realistic stories. They're not wild, they're not crazy, they're not magical. So I didn't want to do that and I said, 'Fuck it, I'll write myself a big story and a big film and I'll do it in English.'?"
After watching Good Will Hunting, Vallée decided that he was going to move his story to Boston because of the city's large Irish-Catholic community. "When I saw this film Good Will Hunting, I looked at those characters and said, 'Oh, wow, perfect.' There's a lot of C.R.A.Z.Y. in Good Will Hunting. Even though they're not talking about God and religion and it's taking place these days and we have a period piece."
Vallée met with three translators and was in the process of choosing the best one before making plans for an American production when actor Michel Cíƒ ´té, who stars as the C.R.A.Z.Y. father, intervened.
"He read the script before I was going to translate and he came back to me and gave me some shit and he said, 'I'm going to kill you if you go to the States to make this film in English. Man, this is a story for us. It's our story. And we've got to fucking make it in French.' He said, 'I'm going to help you. We're going to make this in French. In Quebec.'?"
Cíƒ ´té hooked Vallée up with distributors and producers and managed to line up an almost unprecedented $7-million budget to keep C.R.A.Z.Y. in Canada.
The budget was vital because, as Canadian films go, C.R.A.Z.Y. (which opens in Vancouver on November 25) was insanely ambitious. It spans a 20-year period, beginning with the birth of Zachary Beaulieu (Marc-André Grondin) on Christmas Day in 1960.
The soundtrack alone-which includes songs by Patsy Cline, Pink Floyd, Elvis Presley, David Bowie, and the Rolling Stones-probably cost more to secure than the budget of most Canadian features. And Vallée is still sorry about the songs that got away. His wish list also included tunes by Frank Zappa, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, and the Doors. "I wish I had the Forrest Gump soundtrack. It's two CDS," Vallée said, his eyes lighting up. "There's 40 songs; we have 25. We worked so hard to get those songs. It took more than a year, and letters and letters."
Part of the buzz on C.R.A.Z.Y. is that it's autobiographical. Vallée said it is, but it combines the biographies of both screenwriters.
The first draft of the film was written by Franíƒ §ois Boulay (Providence). "He came from a family of five brothers, five sons, and he lost a brother when he was 20. His older brother committed suicide, and from that moment on he became the father. And when he told me this story, I was so moved and I told him, 'Listen, put down on paper everything you've been telling me about your brothers and we're going to make a film out of this.' So three months later, I woke up and went to pick up my mail and got this big brown envelope in which there's a hundred pages, and on the first page is written, 'Random Souvenirs of my Life.'
"I started to read, and it was touching, it was funny, it was provoking, it was shocking, and it was beautiful. It was real. And from that we started to work on a screenplay. So that's his story, because Franíƒ §ois is the different one, he's the gay in the family. And his father preferred to accept the different one instead of losing another son."
Boulay and Vallée spent four years working on the film before Vallée asked to take over himself. Vallée says he turned down all other work for a year to dedicate his time to finishing the script. "I just wanted to do this alone and please the director in me, because I wasn't satisfied with my previous films and I was turning 40 and I wanted to do something special that I was going to like as an audience and as a director. And so I wrote myself a film that I would love as an audience. But then that's where it also became autobiographical for me. I put some stuff of my own in the film-like the mother; the mother is so religious. That's my mother. And she dreamt to walk in Jesus' footsteps," Vallée said. "And I really loved to believe in God and I had good memories, good souvenirs of my life as a kid."
Other personal souvenirs included making the father a music fan. Vallée's dad was a deejay and serious record collector.
It's not just autobiographical, it's also deeply personal. "C.R.A.Z.Y. is the kind of film that I would like to see. I'm a good audience. I cry, I smile, I laugh, I'm shocked, I like to anticipate, I like to be surprised, to hate some characters, to love them, to care for them. I'm a really good audience. And I like, particularly, to be there at the end of the film-in the dark-and to have this wonderful impression of enjoying life as it's supposed to be, as it's always supposed to be: beautiful. It should be beautiful. It should always be beautiful. And I wanted to make this type of film at least once in my life."
When asked if he still has plans to do an English-language, Americanized version of his movie, Vallée practically spit out the word no, and repeated it eight more times just to make sure he made his point. "My first feature film, Liste Noir, was done in the States by the Americans. It's called The List in English, with Ben Gazzara and Ryan O'Neal. It's a low budget." Vallée said before adding: "We do hope to make a U.S. sale."
He does plan to make his next movie in America. He's adapting a novel and expects the budget to do this one properly will be at least $40 million. So even threats from Cíƒ ´té aren't likely to keep it in Canada.
Meanwhile, C.R.A.Z.Y. is continuing to pile up presents for Vallée. Last week, Canadian film- and TV-industry magazine Playback ran a survey asking readers to pick the "Industry Story of the Year". Among the five choices-alongside the CBC lockout and the Cineplex buyout of Famous Players-was the phenomenal success of C.R.A.Z.Y.