It might be considered by some as a slight film in the still blossoming, but already notable career of Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan, but the family drama It’s Only the End of the World still has a lot of style and substance that makes it rise above and beyond standard melodrama.
Based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, it concerns Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a successful 34-year-old writer who reconnects with his estranged family at his mother’s house following a 12 year absence. His reason for returning: he’s dying and he wants to tell them. Louis’ attempts to say something are stymied by the personalities of those around him and the secrets they keep from each other. His mother (Nathalie Baye) seems flighty, but is smarter than she lets on. He barely knows his younger sister (Léa Seydoux). His older brother (Vincent Cassel) is a toxic lout, loathe for small talk and nostalgia and cruel to his quietly suffering wife (Marion Cotillard).
Shot in tight, but deeply evocative close-ups with a pop music soundtrack and soaring score from Gabriel Yared, Dolan places dramatic emphasis on Louis’ role as a surrogate father figure to the family. It’s a melodrama, to be certain, and Dolan doesn’t try to hide it thematically or visually. It’s a very genuine and earnest film that looks and acts like a soap opera directed by Tracy Letts, and Dolan’s ensemble is perfectly cast.
It’s a bit of a lark for Dolan, but sometimes his larks (like Tom at the Farm, also based on a play) contain some of his best work.