Part fan-fiction, part cosplay, part “What if David Lynch and Amy Sedaris collaborated on a kinda-sorta biopic of Celine Dion,” “Aline” is like nothing you’ve ever seen. And more often than not, that’s a good thing.
Director-star Valérie Lemercier demonstrates a staggering amount of chutzpah in crafting a Celine Dion movie that renames the main character “Aline Dieu” and for taking on the role herself: The fifty-something filmmaker plays the title character from age 7 onward, and while she has a background as a comedian, she dares you not to take this story, or her performance, seriously.
In an era where recent Oscar wins for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “King Richard” means we’re looking at another decade of earnest biopics with grandstanding lead roles, Lemercier (who won a César for Best Actress) throws down the gauntlet with this weird and wonderful portrait of an artist. “Aline” occupies that rare space of being a valentine to its subject while also playing, from certain angles, like a complete parody of the genre.
Celine Dion, of course, has the kind of career where she has emerged not merely as a singer but as more of an industry unto herself. And while she’s coped with personal travails and tragedy along the way, this isn’t the kind of pop-star portrait replete with burnouts, rehab stints or bankruptcy. (One is reminded of the “Weird Al” Yankovic episode of “Beyond the Music,” where he fake-cries over one of his albums slightly underperforming, leading him to have to settle for a medium-sized jacuzzi that year.)
If “Aline” doesn’t have screaming fits and recording-studio meltdowns to move its story along, it has the unlikely rise of a child from a huge (14 kids) French-Canadian family becoming a global sensation because of her raw vocal talent, with that person eventually falling for and marrying her much older manager (Sylvain Marcel as René Angélil, or rather as “Guy-Claude Kamar”).
Adding a level of surreality to the proceedings is the script (by Lemercier and Brigitte Buc) changing all the names while using Celine Dion’s discography (sung by Victoria Sio) throughout. The film winkingly acknowledges its subject every so often: When Guy-Claude first meets Aline, he mishears and asks, “Celine?” And when young Aline releases her first album, it’s called “La voix du bon Dion,” a play on teenage Dion’s debut record, “La voix du bon Dieu.”
To say that a miniaturized and digitally de-aged Lemercier as a pre-adolescent resides in the uncanny valley is to miss the point: Lemercier is on the top of a mountain looking down on the uncanny valley. It’s an unnecessary gimmick when all is said and done, but it adds a level of dumbstruck distance and audacious awkwardness that works for the material by virtue of its brazen daring. It is a mockumentary level of unreality that wants to be accepted exactly as it is.
Dion herself, it should be noted, is beloved by millions worldwide at least partially for her grounded nature and lack of slickness. The 2010 documentary “Celine: Through the Eyes of the World” reveals the backstage Dion to be a very human, very un-diva diva, given to pulling faces and wacky physical humor. When Dion dorkily plays air guitar onstage, she seems to be in on the joke, intently connected to the absurd. (That air-guitar bit is but one of many recognizable Dion moves that Lemercier imitates with accuracy.)
Lemercier, who is French, works in some jokes at the expense of French Canadians that may go over the heads of many viewers below the 49th parallel. (Apparently, the way they say “Vatican” in Quebec is hilarious if you’re from Paris.) And even though “Aline” occasionally lacks a narrative drive — in that it’s a story about a woman who pretty much got everything she ever wanted, albeit through intense hard work and sacrifice — it does score a genuinely emotional moment when Aline imagines herself having an intimate conversation with Guy-Claude after he has died.
But whether you’re a fan of Dion, a detractor, or just someone who finds her presence in pop culture to be fascinating, “Aline” is such a singularly eccentric and sui generis piece of entertainment that it demands to be seen and discussed and pondered. It fills up the uncharted territory between parody and pure fan service with a guileless weirdness that the biopic genre never knew it could accommodate but, in a post–“Walk Hard” world, could stand to emulate.
“Aline” opens in US theaters April 8.