Dear Xavier Dolan,
Stop! Please, I beg you. Stop before it’s too late. Don’t make your next film. At least don’t make the one everyone’s talking about.
I get it. Your career has never been hotter. Your films have never earned more praise. There’s never been a better time to make your English-language Hollywood debut. Casting news is coming out almost daily, and people are excited. They should be exited. The names you’re attracting are a dream team of female talent: Jessica Chastain, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates. Yet all I can do is cringe. I’m a huge fan of your films and an unabashed supporter of Canadian cinema—which is why I’m crushed by a sense of déjà vu.
Here’s the problem.
Every director dreams about making a Hollywood film. Bigger budgets, bigger stars, bigger audience. Which is totally understandable. But time and time again, celebrated Canadian filmmakers don’t just make Hollywood films—they make films about Hollywood. And they tend to suck.
Denys Arcand started the sorry trend with Stardom (2000), a looping, messy, fish-eyed look at overnight success starring a then-unknown Jessica Paré (a.k.a. Megan Draper on Mad Men). Two years later, Deepa Mehta took a crack at mainstreaming her career with Bollywood/Hollywood (2002), which was set in Canada (and also featured Paré), but tried to have its curry-flavoured apple pie and eat it too. Soon after, Don McKellar was inspired by meeting Haley Joel Osment on a red carpet and followed-up his fantastic, distinctly Canadian directorial debut Last Night (1998) with the lousy and forgettable Childstar (2004). Not to be outdone, Atom Egoyan looked south to break his own self-imposed filmmaking curse by casting Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth in the showbiz period piece Where the Truth Lies (2005), which today is remembered (if at all) only for the threesome scene that temporarily earned the film an NC-17 rating. And this year the Godfather of Canadian Cinema David Cronenberg comes out with Maps to the Stars (2014), which has been a box-office disappointment, considering the cast, but revered by at least some critics.
And now you’ve announced The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. The plot synopsis: “an American movie star finds his correspondence with an 11-year-old actor exposed, prompting assumptions that begin to destroy his life and career.”
I’m scared, man. History is not on your side.
It’s not just Canadians who have a hard time making films about Hollywood. Everyone does. There’s scarcely a film this side of Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) that is even worth mentioning. The Artist (2011) would be an exception: a black and white ode to the silent era, which, ironically, sounds like it could only have been pulled off by Canada’s Guy Maddin (it was actually a French film by Michel Hazanavicius). But skewering the already absurd just doesn’t seem to pay dividends to anyone.
There is, of course, another Canadian filmmaking trend you could follow. Fellow Quebecois directors Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild), Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie), Ken Scott (Delivery Man) and Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Prisoners) are all making a real go at it stateside, creating interesting genre films that are still thematically linked to (or, in Scott’s case, a direct remake of) their projects back home. To varying degrees, it seems to be working.
You’re better equipped than most to make larger-than-life characters connect with an audience. Heightened personal drama is your bread and butter. So I have no doubt you’ll get incredible performances from your A-list stars. And at age 25 (dear God), chances are you’ll get a couple of cracks at it even if this film doesn’t pan out.
But because you’re so young, you need to know that this project is much higher risk than you think. It’s not your fault – it’s hereditary. I’m begging you: please don’t repeat the sins of your forefathers. After all, we’re counting on you for the future of Canadian cinema.