By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on October 23, 2013

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Dear Robert Charlebois
Special Appearance Maker

Dear Robert,

I know you're no ordinary guy, regardless of what you claimed in your 1971 hit single.

Except "ordinary" is a hard word to define, as we see in Louise Archambault's sophomore feature Gabrielle. For you, it probably means being humble, easy-to-please, and relatable--all despite your superstar status in la belle province. But it's a little more complicated for intellectually-challenged adults, like the characters in this unassuming, poignant drama. Which is why it's too bad you stole their thunder.

You see, for all the film's virtues, Archambault makes a critical miscalculation in how she uses you. Initially, you're introduced as motivation for Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard), Martin (Alexandre Landry), and the other members of the choral group Les Muses de Montreal. With Waiting for Guffman anxiety, the group of developmentally-challenged singers practice your song Ordinaire, alternating lines and humming the chorus together. Their goal is to perform a rendition worthy of your company; to create a collaboration that doesn't feel like a charity case. It's an easy metaphor that represents the inherent themes of the whole film. But it doesn't unfold quite as gracefully as it should.

Your eventual participation is never in question. The characters are preparing for a show which you have already agreed to attend, making rehearsals all the more important as the group hopes to avoid any potential embarrassment. But when Martin's mother removes him from the group in the hopes of ending his burgeoning sexual relationship with Gabrielle, the music takes a backseat.

This is actually where the story is at it's best, spurring frank discussions about contraception, independence, and morality. The couple finds ways to meet, mainly through the help of Gabrielle's sister (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin), and the film does a good job of eliciting protective feelings towards them. I found myself scrutinizing every physical encounter and wrestling with my desire to see them get together and do so responsibly. It's a unique place to mine dramatic tension, and helps the film rise above being another simple, sappy love story.

Unfortunately, there comes a point where the relationship is treated like just another hook-up. And I realize this might be the point, but it's also a melodramatic overstatement (something you're famous for)--much the same way your introduction is teased with a 20-second over-the-shoulder tracking shot that eventually gives up, pans around, and shows us your face.

Then we actually spend some time with you before the big show, which - I don't think is a spoiler to say - reveals you to be a bit of a spotlight hog. We get a full rendition of your biggest hit - Lindberg - and while I'm sure it's a treat for "ordinary" Quebecers who love the tune, it overpowers the small and extraordinary truths at the heart of the story.

Otherwise, really enjoyed the show.



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