Aline Review: The Power of Love, Baby!

Get ready to experience the power of love. Aline is the ultimate tribute band in film form. This faux biopic of Quebecoise songstress Céline Dion is a blissful love ballad. Valérie Lemercier stars as “Aline Dieu,” a provincial Canadian ingénue who takes the world by storm. Aline plays fast and loose with the chanteuse’s biography, yet Dion fans should enjoy its liberal cover. This film is delightfully campy fan, just like the best of Dion’s music. It’s a power balled with a heart as big as the ocean that should have fans singing in the cinemas. If that pennywhistle solo from Titanic stirs your soul, or if you consider the “I Drove All Night” lip sync a Canadian Heritage Minute, then you simply must see Aline. This is a love letter penned with the unabashed joy of fandom.

Aline signals quite openly that it’s not really a Céline Dion movie, per se, as the singer’s family begins modestly in Quebec. Her mom, Sylvette (Danielle Fichaud), and father, Anglomard (Roc Lafortune), keep popping out babies in their Catholic household. It’s a bit silly—one practically expects a reference to the “Dion quintuplets” with so many kids—and it’s yet a welcome exercise in celebrity mythology. Sylvette’s maternal role grows as she adopts her daughter’s baby as her youngest child, names her Aline, and keeps her in a dresser drawer. In a total boss move, though, Lemercier plays Dion Dieu from ages five through forty-five. More astonishingly, she doesn’t wear much make-up, nor does she employ Benjamin Button-y effects. (They just shrink her digitally.) She looks younger as forty-five-year-old Dieu than she does as the five-year-old one. And, yet, somehow, it works.


“We Forgive and Forget”

Céline, see, taught us that “we see what we want to see.” The flesh and the fantasy mingle perfectly in Lemercier’s performance. Everything you love about Dion will all be coming back to you now.

Lemercier conjures the pure joy of Dion’s music by inhabiting the non-copyright-infringing version of the singer with such commitment. Physically and artistically, it’s actually a great performance despite, or perhaps because of, how ridiculous it is. Aline offers a case study in how actors can age their characters simply by the comportment of their bodies. Note how Aline carriers herself at different ages—how she’s hunched or statuesque as years go by. Just ignore the wrinkles when she’s 12.


At age 12, however, Aline’s also getting horny for her geriatric manager. After her parents boldly insist that disgraced-but-still-notable producer Guy-Claude Kamar (Sylvain Marcel) listen to Aline’s demo tape, she finds herself in the office of this powerful man with a beer gut and porn star ponytail. Aline, however, is immediately smitten. So too is any fan when Guy-Claude calls her “Céline” and Sylvette playfully wags her finger and corrects him. “No, no: Aline.” This is great self-referential drama fun, folks.


The Age Gap

Aline finds the sweet spot between Walk the Line and Walk Hard as it charts Dion’s biography (ish). Lemercier generally focuses on Dieu’s relationship with inspiring-by-René-Angélil crush in tandem with her rise as a star. It’s impossible not to do so. As Aline evolves as a singer, she only has Guy-Claude by her side. He’s her friend, her mentor, and confidante. Lemercier, however, understands the cultural context. There’s an icky love story to an outsider’s eyes. While Aline shows Dieu actively pursuing Guy-Claude, and he basically refuses her but keeps his eye on the clock until she’s 20, the film doesn’t lose sleep over the awkward genesis of their romance.

Fichard, moreover, gets some outstandingly juicy material as Sylvette denounces the relationship. Maman Dieu does not approve of the age gap. Aline therefore gives audiences a take on the pop star’s life filtered through a contemporary lens. There are indeed moments of pure love, but audiences can decide to the extent that the heart wants what it wants.


Fact Check vs. Subjectively True

However, Lemercier treads respectfully and delicately. Some elements of Dion’s life are obviously not like they are here. For one, it’s a notably Parisian take on Quebec from the accents to the aesthetics. Other points in Aline are chronologically shoddy. Most egregious for example, is the use of 1998’s “Let’s Talk About Love” during the scene of Aline’s marriage to Guy Claude, as Dion and Angélil married in 1994. Or when Guy-Claude says he’ll text someone at the 1998 Oscars. These silly details, however, merely amplify one’s fandom when noting them. Although the typo of “Barbara Streisand” in the subtitles should have gays rioting in the streets.


This is, after all, an overt fictionalization of one of the world’s biggest pop stars. Whatever is factually loose in Aline is emotionally and experientially true to fans. Aline charts the greatest hits, like her iconic moment performing “My Heart Will Go On” for Titanic and at the Oscars. There are the details like how Dion didn’t want to do the song at all, while the costuming details are note perfect. The sequences that show her in concert perfectly capture what a magnetic thrill Dion is on stage. (I’ve seen her twice.) The Vegas act is pure camp: a glittery delight that celebrates a woman who miraculously juggled family life and professional commitments. Lemercier’s admiration for Dion is evident here. Her inhabitation of the singer evolves alongside the soul timbre of those signature showstopping vocals.


Les chansons

Then, of course, there’s the soundtrack. Aline miraculously features a wall-to-wall soundtrack of Céline Dion hits. Aline largely features Dion’s francophone recordings, which makes sense narratively given the time devoted to her early years. However, there are true Dion bangers here like “My Heart Will Go On,” “All by Myself,” “I’m Alive,” and her electrifying cover of Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.” Dion doesn’t perform them, though. Aline Dieu’s vocals come courtesy of Victoria Sio, who is a near dead-ringer for Dion’s voice. Fans will notice, but Aline has such an infectiously poppy beat that one won’t mind. Your heart will go on, and on, and on with absolute glee.


Aline opens in Toronto at the Fox on Feb. 18 and expands to select theatres in the coming weeks.