Initially strange, then mildly amusing, and eventually just kind of whatever, Francophone musical success story Aline is the very definition of neither one thing nor the other. As its opening block of text explains, it is “inspired” by the life of Céline Dion, the gazillion record-selling Quebecoise chanteuse, perhaps best known for singing the theme song from Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On.” But it is also “a work of fiction,” wherein the main character is called not Céline Dion but Aline Dieu — played by the film’s co-writer-director Valérie Lemercier.
Not-Céline Aline is a soundalike creation in every sense (Victoria Sio does her singing voice, to which Lemercier lip-syncs), who belts out tunes made famous by the real Dion, although none of the few that Dion actually wrote. And so Dion is eerily kind of everywhere and nowhere at the same time, her name, apart from that opening text, excised from the film except when we see the title of Aline’s first album, cheekily dubbed La Voix de Dion (the real record was called La Voix de Dieu). Instead of a tribute band, it’s all one big tribute biopic.
Easy on the ear but very weird.
That’s only the start of the film’s many peculiarities. Among others, you might want to list why Lemercier would choose, aside from purely mercantile reasons, to make a film based on the life of Céline Dion in the first place considering the singer has led, by music biopic standards, a pretty boring life.
Admittedly, she was the last born in a family of 14 children, unusual even in Catholic Quebec in the 1960s. The weirdest historical fact about Dion we know, as confirmed by autobiographical accounts, is that she fell in love with her manager René Angélil when she was a teenager and he was 26 years older and already married. They got spliced after his divorce, had three kids after a bit of IVF, and lived happily ever after, rich off their mutual hard work and sold-out shows and Vegas residencies, until he died of natural causes in 2016. Not exactly a sex-drugs-and-rock ‘n’ roll story.
The film’s most outrageously cray-cray creative choice, by some distance, is to digitally graft Lemercier’s attractive but undeniably middle-aged face onto the body of a young girl to play Aline as a kid. This goes on only in the first 15-20 minutes of the movie and yet casts an indelible, uncannily disturbing impression, for instance when Aline as a toddler, toddler-sized but with the sunken nasolabial folds and large nose of adult Lemercier, peaks over the edge of the stage at her performing siblings. Or later, when she’s about eight or so, and she belts out French songwriter Hubert Giraud’s “Mamy Blue” at a wedding, blowing away the whole family but especially her own mother Sylvette (Danielle Fichaud), father Anglomard (Roc Lafortune) and one of many older brothers named Jean-Something (Antoine Vezina).
The latter finds a way to get a tape of Aline singing to renowned Montreal music manager Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel), the film’s stand-in for Angélil. The rest is more or less well-known musical history, with a few romantic embellishments and lashings of montage sequences set to era-appropriate pop tunes. (The soundtrack is very well-chosen throughout, from the vintage French chansons to thematically apt cuts that match the story’s mood, like that other French-Canadian diva, Rufus Wainwright, singing “Going to a Town,” with its “Tired of America” refrain, in a late scene.)
God, or should we say Dieu, only knows what the real Dion makes of all this. But she/Aline comes out of it smelling of roses and looking like a trillion Canadian bucks as incarnated by the very likable Lemercier, with her warm snaggle-toothed smile and legs until next year.
The star’s chemistry with Marcel smooths over the creepiness of the age gap between them, or at least almost does, and there’s a lot of wholesome charm in the scenes with Maman and Papa and the infinite pool of siblings, as yappy and cheerful as a pack of corgis. It’s a very tolerable watch, if somewhat interminable and rather lacking in proper drama. But perhaps that’s just what an audience of hardened Dion fans would want from a viewing.