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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Canadian Film Review: Tu Dors Nicole (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Stephane Lafleur
Starring: Julianne Cote, Marc-Andre Grondin, Catherine St-Laurent

At 22 years old, having just finished college, Nicole is enjoying one last summer before running out of excuses to put off the big transition to adulthood. She's been dreaming away her life and needs to wake up - though it takes her some time, and the convergence of multiple small crises, before she realizes it. Taking a tone that is largely tongue-in-cheek and slightly magic realist, Tu Dors Nicole's writer/director Stephane Lafleur weaves an often delightful, somewhat bizarre, but altogether spellbinding comic drama with an absolutely terrific lead performance at its center.

Julianne Cote is Nicole, who is left home alone for the summer while her parents are away and is drifting through the days with her friend Veronique (Catherine St-Laurent), idling away the hours when she's not working at a local thrift store and avoiding the romantic overtures of a kid she used to babysit who believes himself to have become a genuine suitor as a result of his voice changing early. Things begin to change with the sudden appearance of Nicole's brother Remi (Marc-Andre Grodin) and his bandmates Pat (Simon Larouche) and JF (Francis La Haye), who set up shop with their equipment in the living room with the intention of recording an album. While Nicole isn't unhappy, exactly, to see Remi, with whom she has a decent relationship but not a particularly close one due to the age difference between them, his presence in the house and the constant playing of his band do little to help her insomnia. The presence of the band also has the effect of creating a fissure in the relationship between Nicole and Veronique, with Nicole starting to feel that she's being ignored while Veronique flirts with the boys, even as she herself begins a flirtation with one, which he insists can go nowhere because of her brother.

Nicole has no true direction yet in life. She's bored with life in the suburbs, where there's nothing much to do but suffer through a heatwave, where she works a menial job that she feels entirely disengaged from and isn't terribly good at, and where the smallness of her town means that there's always a chance of her running into her ex-boyfriend, who unceremoniously dumped her and is now engaged to someone else. To make matters worse, the only person who seems to be really interested in where she's at is that 10 year old kid, who keeps insisting to her that he's more mature than she's giving him credit for and assures her that he can wait for her until he's older. Nicole takes all of this seemingly in stride, but there's a restlessness at her core, a rumbling deep below the surface warning of a pending explosion. The only questions are what will finally trigger it and how will it manifest itself.

Though they ultimately have different sensibilities, Tu Dors Nicole makes for an interesting companion piece with 2013's Frances Ha, and not just because both are presented in soft, dreamy black and white images. Both are stories of young women on the cusp of the next phase in their lives, uncertain what they should do because they sort of expected to have already figured it out by now (or possibly have someone else figure it out for them), their main concern not with landing or keeping a man, but with maintaining their relationship with their closest female friend as life begins to pull them apart in different directions. Tu Dors Nicole is ultimately a very different kind of movie, less grounded in reality as we know it than Frances Ha, though at the same time it depicts that transitional phase in life in a less romanticized and slightly darker way. That tinge of darkness, however, does nothing to lessen the inherent charm of Tu Dors Nicole.

Playing the sleepwalker at the story's center, Cote delivers a steady, low key performance that perfectly fits the character, who accepts the often strange things going on around her in an entirely straight-faced way that just makes it all the more funny. Sight unseen, the recurring gag of the 10 year old with the grown man's voice who keeps professing his affection to Nicole probably sounds really problematic and creepy, but it was actually one of my favorite things in the film because Lafleur pulls it off so well, employing the gag at just the right moments in the narrative and without overusing it, and having found the perfect combination of an entirely angelic looking little boy on screen and a deep baritone on the voiceover. It's those weird little touches, that hint of strangeness that indicates that all is not quite right and which speaks directly to the story's main theme that its protagonist is still a child but now occupies a grown up's body by presenting the her with the mirror image of a seemingly grown man occupying the body of a child, that ultimately makes the piece stand out among other films of its type. At 93 minutes, and dealing with what are ultimately very low stakes problems, Tu Dors Nicole is a slight film, but it's also a very enjoyable and highly entertaining one that has more going on beneath the surface than meets the eye.

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