Aline Review: The Unofficial Celine Dion Biopic Is Officially One Of The Most Uncanny Cinematic Experiences

"Aline" might truly be one of the most bizarre movies to come out of the arthouse circuit. A biopic that's not a biopic, a movie that manages to gain the rights to the artist's music but refuses to lavish any attention on the beloved songs or how they were made. A movie where the 57-year-old director stars as a Céline Dion surrogate from 5 years old to 40 years old, her face eerily pasted onto a tiny child's body like some kind of malformed hobbit. A movie where things keep happening at a relentless pace, without any semblance of dramatic tension or narrative. Is this camp? Or at least, some strange fever dream from the mind of a Céline Dion superfan?

No, "Aline" is the "unofficial" biopic of Céline Dion, wherein director and star Valerie Lemercier plays Aline Dieu, a Canadian girl with the voice of an angel who gets discovered at the age of 12 and soon rockets to international superstardom. But her success is complicated by her romance with her longtime manager who first discovers her — and is 20 years older than her, too. The film's central romance reflects the real relationship between Dion and her longtime husband René Angélil, also 20 years older than the singer.

"Aline" is a Céline Dion biopic in all but name, and even cheekily nods to the real artist who inspired the film, with Aline's future manager and husband Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel) mistakenly calling her "Céline" before he gets corrected. The film even strictly follows the events of Dion's life, from her humble beginnings in a crowded Quebec family (one of 14 siblings!), to her global superstardom, to her many Vegas residencies. But, perhaps refreshingly though a bit perplexingly, "Aline" isn't much interested in the career and music of Céline Dion. It's only interested in her love story.

The power of love — and digital de-aging

The music biopic has never recovered since "Walk Hard" so efficiently and brutally dismantled it. And "Aline," starcrossed ambitions that it has, can't help falling upon those biopic tropes that "Walk Hard" already skewered: the artist towards the end of their career reflecting back on their life, the flashback to their pastoral childhood, the many, many montages. But one thing immediately sets "Aline" apart from the rest, and it may not be for the better: digital de-aging.

For some reason, Lemercier insists on playing Aline throughout her life, first appearing as a 5-year-old (thankfully they spared us a terrifying baby from "Twilight" moment here) singing at her brother's wedding — or rather, her partially hidden face pasted onto the body of a 5-year-old. The obfuscation doesn't help: our first glimpse of Aline is terrifying, like seeing Gollum halfway through his transformation from Andy Serkis to mo-cap creature. Lemercier's performance as Aline is perpetually doe-eyed throughout her life, making her feel like a fan's vague impression of a musical diva and not a person. 

The broad, cartoonish performances of the rest of the cast around her don't help; everyone in the ensemble — apart from Marcel, who appears to be the only actor to have made the choice to play a human — acts like the wandered in off a "Muppets" movie, except they're the Muppets. All of Aline's family members appear to be costumed and made up to be older than their respective ages throughout the film, in what one can only assume is an accidental display of Brechtian theatricality. Increased exposure to the bizarre de-aging effect doesn't make it any less uncanny: try as they might, Aline always looks like she has a 57-year-old woman's face pasted on her body, up through her 30s, and by then, the film's bizarre narrative choices will have taken your attention.

Aline will go on...

Another one of the great obstacles of a biopic is crafting some kind of narrative out of someone's life. In a music biopic, it's typically drugs or debauchery or divorce; in show business dramas, it's the rise of stardom and the painful pull of romance (and all the melodrama therein). "Aline" elects to follow the show business route, but for some reason, skips the stardom part and goes straight for the romance — an even stranger choice when you realize that the film, unlike other "unauthorized" music biopics, managed to gain the rights to Dion's most famous songs. There are plenty of montages, but they're used as a way to fast-forward through Aline's biggest career landmarks — the only reference we have to "My Heart Will Go On," one of Dion's biggest international hits and a song the film did get the rights to, is that Aline doesn't like it when she first hears it. Time has no meaning, dramatic tension doesn't exist, and before you know it, Aline is on her second Vegas residency.

But perhaps that's all worth it for the grand and epic romance between Aline and Guy-Claude, right? Not so much. The film never overcomes the discomfort over their age difference (that Marcel looks all of his 57 years when he first meets 12-year-old Aline does not help), nor does it ever give us a reason to care about their relationship apart from Lemercier's insipid stares at Marcel in every scene. The romance around which this film supposedly revolves falls victim to that same lack of dramatic tension that the narrative suffers — things just happen. Aline and Guy-Claude have their first kiss, cut to the next scene, it's 15 years later and they're married. A "Star is Born"-inspired final song attempts to give weight to their decades-long love story, as a 40-something Aline mourns her husband's death, but the song is terrible and we have ceased caring.

Perhaps these wild swings and baffling narrative choices were all intentional? Perhaps this was Lemercier calling attention to the overused unreality of digital de-aging in the movie business. Maybe it is camp. Whatever it is, "Aline" is one bizarre cinematic experience.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10