Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Frank Review of "Léolo" (1992)

The Short Version? Boy meets Mad World.
What Is It? Dramedy.
Who Is In It? French-Canadians.
Should I See It? Yes.

You know those bittersweet Neil Simon coming of age plays that cast a nostalgic look at a simpler time? Ones like Brighton Beach Memoirs, where you see what it was like for a Jewish kid to grow up with a crazy aunt or how the protagonist discovered his sexuality? Well, it's undeniable that making a reference and then describing another thing as being like that "...on acid" is a total cliché, but y'know, some cliché exists because it is simply true.

Léo Lauzon is a twelve year old boy who lives in a Montreal tenement with his insane family. I don't mean that in a wacky, dysfunctional way. These people cycle in and out of psych wards routinely, and are so divorced from reality that Léo refuses to claim them as kin. In fact, he believes he was the offspring of a cum smeared tomato becoming lodged in his mother's vagina during a traffic accident. Léo no longer wishes to go by his family name, demanding that everyone refer to him as Léolo. Most of the picture is derived from Léolo's private journal entries, which have been discovered by a benevolent reader, as he surveys the bizarre, surrealistic, and magical world the boy inhabits.

Léolo is a peculiar film from writer-director Jean-Claude Lauzon, from which some have read autobiographical inspiration. We'll never know for sure, as Lauzon was killed while piloting a plane with his girlfriend, leaving only two eccentric films as his legacy. Léolo is a very easy film to watch, despite its subtitles, as you're drawn in by the quirky comedy and naked revelations about this boy's life. It's much more difficult to leave behind, as you reflect on the grim realities Léolo denies, and the consequences of his fantastic flights. It is definitely the type of movie you watch once from the perspective you're manipulated into by the filmmaker, and a second time from the outlook you're left with in the end. Time Magazine named it one of the 100 best pictures of all time, and it's currently at 100% at Rotten Tomatoes. For myself, I felt a little betrayed by the rushed conclusion, and I find in retrospect I respect the film more than enjoy it. Still, it's a very worthwhile experience that has touched many viewers deeply, and well worth the time to investigate for yourself.

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