The Death and Life of John F. Donovan – TIFF 2018 Review

Oh Xavier Dolan, I adore how fun your films can be. I love your textured and multi-layered LGBTQ flicks, that use aggressive styles and fast paced dialogue to tell a fairly compelling story. From the decade long saga of Lawrence Always, to the Stockholm Syndrome themed thriller Tom at the Farm, your films manage to investigate the fragility of the human spirit in an enlightening way. I even liked It’s Only The End of the World, a film of yours that was largely panned by critics and audiences alike. Now I ask you Mr. Dolan, what the fuck happened here? Your first English Language film is supposed  powerful, like your previous work, not boring and over-sentimental! How did you make this? What the fuck happened during the post-production process?

It’s disappointing to say that as much as I love Xavier Dolan’s filmography, his newest film, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan felt more like a cheap Dolan imitator hijacked and directed the flick rather than Xavier actually creating it. This was simply an abysmal melodramatic mess that relies heavily on barely developed ideas, that only goes so far before becoming stale and lifeless. What starts off as a decent film, slowly became a train wreck flashing before my eyes. Incoherent editing, unbelievably horrid dialogue, and a lack of self awareness ruin what could have been a perfectly fine film.

While Natalie Portman and Jacob Tremblay give it there all, it’s unfortunate to say that they were the only true highlights of the film. There’s something so compelling about their chemistry that feels authentic and true, like something that would come out of Dolan’s autobiography. Unfortunately, the film barely touched on the psychological side of their relationship, resulting in an underwhelming and disappointing mess of unfinished and underdeveloped ideas, similar to the rest of the film.

Sure there’s class, sure there’s great makeup and hair styling, sure there’s some decent cinematography, but other than the impressive technical achievements and Portman’s and Tremblay’s performances, there’s nothing else here. The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is schlocky melodramatic “entertainment” that fails in encapsulating what makes the premise of the film so unique. Also, if you ever hear the song “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele before the opening titles of ANY film, just leave the theater and run as fast as you can. Run for the hills and never come back. It’s for the best.

 4/10

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The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is Currently Seeking US Distribution

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