Aline

Aline is one of the strangest films I've ever seen. It bills itself as “a fiction freely inspired by the life of Celine Dion.” One can only presume that to mean it's a Celine Dion biopic, except they didn't get the rights to use the beloved singer's name, so they named the lead character Aline Dieu instead. Maybe you can already sense the perplexing nature of the movie. The protagonist is not Celine Dion, yet every single thing in the story is designed specifically to make you think of Celine Dion. That approach proves distancing, preventing you from ever becoming invested in Aline Dieu's journey.

Valerie Lemercier, who co-wrote and directed, plays Aline. Even as a child. Yes, a 56-year-old woman is digitally shrunken to the size of a kid. (Had the movie stuck with such madness, it might have worked better.) Aline lives with her parents and thirteen siblings in a small French-Canadian town. When her extraordinary singing voice is discovered, her parents get her a manager, Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel, essentially playing Rene Angelil). He becomes her Svengali, and eventually her husband, all while carefully orchestrating her ascent to the top of the music field.

The best scenes in Aline are the early ones, showing how this shy young girl blows people away with the preternaturally mature quality of her voice, and how Guy-Claude works to find the right songs to help her flourish. Once Aline evolves into an adult superstar, the film becomes rocky. Lermercier crams in a lot of Dion's life events – from fertility struggles, to Vegas residency, to becoming a widow – without providing much depth to any of them. Worse, the movie has a tendency to cut away from key moments. Dion's big break came from being part of the Eurovision Song Contest. Aline participates, too, except we don't get to see her performance. That's a huge miscalculation.

Constant blurring of the lines between reality and fiction proves disconcerting. For example, there's a whole section where Aline is brought in to sing a song called “My Heart Will Go On” for James Cameron's new movie Titanic. A subsequent scene finds her tearing the roof off the place by singing it at the Academy Awards. Here again, we're thinking about Celine Dion, when we should be centered on Aline. This sort of distraction happens time and again. On the plus side, this section is one of the few times we actually get to hear a Celine Dion song. Perhaps the most bizarre factor of all is that Aline continually calls the legendary singer to mind, but features very little of her music.

Because she is Celine-but-not-Celine, Aline Dieu is never more than a phantom to us. She doesn't have her own personality, she has someone else's. It doesn't help that the character has relatively little dialogue. People talk to her or about her, while she often stands silent. Lemercier lacks the presence necessary to make this oddball concept work. Celine Dion has a unique aura. You can't not watch her when you see her. Part of it is awe at her talent. Another part is that she's, quite frankly, a little weird, with exaggerated mannerisms and an off-kilter energy. Nobody else is like her. Lermercier isn't able to replicate that, leaving Aline to feel like nothing more than a mediocre Saturday Night Live impersonation.

I know I've focused on negatives thus far. Let me be crystal clear here: Aline is not really a bad movie. Its entire premise is unusual enough that I was never outright bored, and I was often intrigued by the choices the picture makes. What I'm reminded of, though, is Gus Van Sant's infamous shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Like that film, Aline is a fairy compelling cinematic experiment. Also like that film, it's impossible to enjoy on its own terms, given that you're forced to view it through another lens the entire time.


out of four

Aline is rated PG-13 for some suggestive material and brief language. The running time is 2 hours and 8 minutes.