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Xavier Dolan needs to be slapped. The 22-year-old auteur of 2009’s insufferable I Killed My Mother comes off as only slightly less self-centered in his follow-up, Heartbeats—even though the story involves a potential love triangle, and his character isn’t even the pedestaled object of affection.
Coming off as only slightly less pretentious than in his debut, Dolan plays Francis, gay best friend to Marie (Monia Chokri). Nothing, it seems, could come between them, until they meet Nicolas (Niels Schneider), a social butterfly with golden ringlets who looks like he should be made of marble. The platonic couple becomes a platonic threesome, with Nicolas apparently oblivious to Marie and Francis’ puppy-dog looks and somewhat pathetic attempts to please him. (Sleeping in the same bed and slathering his friends with affection? Just what Nicolas does with all his buddies, apparently.) When neither one of them seems to be getting anywhere, Marie and Francis start getting snippy with each other, becoming increasingly estranged as they try to win Nicolas’ love.
Dolan occasionally interrupts the story with random others who describe their own obsessions and heartache, a strategy that’s a bit confusing at first but eventually offers welcome breaks—you know, normal people filmed normally—from the film’s excesses. Dolan’s characters may for the most part be keenly observed, but it all becomes eye-rolling when he takes his stylization into overdrive. The first time he soundtracks his characters in slo-mo to a humid French song with the lyrics “bang bang,” it’s slick and seems rather Tarantino-esque—which it should, since it’s a cover of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” which was used in Kill Bill. The next dozen times Dolan uses it? Not so effective. He’s also fond of playing with color, washing sex scenes in red, blue, green, and yellow. It doesn’t really add anything to the story besides saying, “Hey, look what I can do!”
Yes, we know what you can do, wunderkind: write and direct a movie that revolves around you, stylize the hell out of it, and in general so suffuse it with your ego that it overshadows any nugget of good storytelling. Well played.