The Death & Life of John F. Donovan ★★★½

Growing Pains Challenge
Cult of Personality 2020
2020 First Time Watches Ranked

"There is a moment when the mask cracks, right?"

Xavier Dolan's cinematic voice is so profoundly his that, in films like The Death & Life of John F. Donovan, it can almost be deafening. And yet, there's so much consummate craft, so much compelling material in even the most out-there of his films that I can't help but admire him for it. With Donovan, he entrusts Kit Harrington (an actor whose character ranked among the least I cared for on Game of Thrones) with the task of anchoring what feels like his most ambitious, if oddly myopic, project yet. As John F. Donovan, Harrington manages to cut through two hours of opaque snapshots to finally showcase the versatility of his talents. If Dolan did something very right, it's cast both he and wünderkind Jacob Tremblay, who shines yet again, as his focal points. They, along with Ben Schnetzer, give weight to a film that wades into melodrama much too frequently. It's in these scenes during which characters emote with zealous abandon that what could otherwise be a cinematic revelation instead comes across as sensational guilty pleasure viewing material. This isn't helped by extreme closeups that feel like Dolan's way of feverishly trying to unearth the pathos his film lacks by wringing it from his performer's visages. I also found myself wondering why Dolan chose to have Harrington more often than not be acted upon rather than be the commanding agent in more than a few of his scenes. But that's yet another factor that makes this deliriously watchable pseudo-vanity project a rare indulgence that speaks more truths with its bombast and grandstanding than most of its contemporaries seem willing to. Underneath the hokey sheen is a fascinating character study examining everything from queerness in the most visible levels of society to the consequences of the psychological and emotional escapes people eke out in order to carry on living unfulfilled lives. It's an absorbing mess that I couldn't look away from.

P.S. I have to admire the BALLS that it takes to include a carbon-copy shot referencing My Own Private Idaho.
P.P.S. I'm so intrigued by the concept of a Chastain cut and will foolishly keep my fingers crossed we'll get to see it some day.

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