Visiting family can be trying. Memories can be stirred up and old wounds opened. But I will guess that no matter how surreal your stopovers with the clan may be, they likely aren’t as melodramatic as Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) visit home after a twelve year absence in Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World.”
Louis is successful and gay, a playwright travelling home to see his family, people he barely knows anymore. Terminally ill, he’s determined to visit on his own terms to prove he is, “until the very end the master of his life.” Instead of open arms he walks into a seething mass of hurt and anger from his relatives, manic mother Martine (Nathalie Baye), short-tempered brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel), frazzled sister-in-law Catherine (Marion Cotillard) and Suzanne (Léa Seydoux) a younger sister he barely knows.
Based on Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play of the same name, “It’s Only The End Of The World,” unfolds episodically, like a series of beautifully performed but melodramatic one act plays. An awkward conversation here, an argument there, punctuated by Dolan’s stylistic flourishes. Slow motion and close-up after close-up showcase the interesting and rather exquisite faces of the cast but lend a claustrophobic feel to the film. As the walls close in on Louis the constant up-close-and-personal bickering grates on the audience. Why doesn’t he just pack his bags and leave? Why don’t we? Either way, it would put an end to the on-screen caterwauling.
There are some touching moments in “It’s Only the End of the World,” but they occur mostly in flashback. In the present day the film portrays a clichéd view of family dysfunction that is neither as revealing nor profound enough to maintain interest. If it’s family trouble you want, go visit your own folks. At least you’ll get a home cooked meal out of the deal.