Remember the name Xavier Dolan. You're going to be hearing it a lot in the future. Only 21-years-old, the French Canadian auteur is already on his second feature film. His first, 2009's I Killed My Mother, took three prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. His latest just picked up four Genie nominations (Canada's equivalent of the Oscars), including Best Picture and Best Direction. After a festival run that included stops at Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Mill Valley Film Festival and San Francisco's Indiefest, this frothy tale of best friends competing for the same guy arrives in theaters. Stylish and funny, Heartbeats has plenty to offer fans of offbeat romantic comedies, but a small release limits its box office potential.
Marie (Monia Chokri) nails Nicolas (Niels Schneider) perfectly the first time she and close pal Francis (Dolan) spot the gorgeous blond boy, dismissing him as "a self-satisfied Adonis." That contempt for Nico's obvious narcissism does not last long. Falling for his beauty and charm, friends become frenemies as Marie and Francis compete for Nicolas' attention. Hopelessly in love (or at least lust), the two contort themselves every which way in an effort to win over the god that walks among them.
Dolan's execution is hilarious. A French-language version of the old Sonny and Cher song "Bang Bang (I Shot My Baby Down)" becomes a recurring theme, signaling the moments Marie and Francis are about to up the ante in their competition. Neither becomes a stalker (although Francis' behavior when left alone in Nico's room comes pretty close), but they go to extremes to catch their object of affection's attention. Marie tries to make herself over as a kind of Holly Golightly while Francis turns to James Dean for inspiration. To their behavior, Dolan adds a kind of running commentary via documentary-like footage of men and women talking about their romantic lives in funny little asides, one of which earned costar Anne-Élisabeth Bossé a Best Supporting Genie nod.
Chokri and Dolan are adorable even when Marie and Francis are being completely petulant. Schneider is as lovely as he needs to be and is very good as a guy skating on good looks and surface amiability. Dolan also adds costumes to his writer/ director/producer/star credits, and he excels in that area as well, particularly in the way he dresses Chokri during her Audrey Hepburn phase.
The story is a trifle, making Heartbeats a triumph of style over substance, but what captivating style it is. Dolan's superior wit is not confined merely to his narrative and dialogue. Visually, the movie is a treat. In its freshness and energy, Heartbeats recalls the French New Wave, but this 21-year-old just starting to make waves is well on his way to developing a style of his own.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Xavier Dolan, Monia Chokri, Niels Schneider, Anne Dorval and Anne-Elisabeth Bosse
Director/Screenwriter: Xavier Dolan
Producer: Xavier Dolan, Carole Mondello and Daniel Morin
Running time: 95 min
Release date: February 25 NY