Montreal’s drag scene comes under the spotlight in this affecting drama about a romance that turns sour
Dir/scr: Sophie Dupuis. Canada. 2023. 101 mins
Drag is a form of self-expression, an act of political defiance and a means of reinvention in Solo. The third collaboration between writer/director Sophie Dupuis and actor Theodore Pellerin uses a vibrant depiction of the Montreal drag scene as a backdrop to a queer romance as it runs its course from initial infatuation to bitter ashes. A handsome production and a strong ensemble cast, including 120 BPM’s Felix Maritaud, should readily attract queer audiences at festivals and theatrically. A world premiere at TIFF is followed by a September theatrical release in Canada and France.
A contemporary romance rooted in some appealingly old-fashioned influences
Previously seen in Dupuis’ Family First (2018) and Underground (2020), Pellerin stars as Simon, a willowy, emotionally vulnerable young man who pours his creativity into his drag queen alter ego Glory Gore. Dupuis captures the affectionate camaraderie at the club where Simon works, a place marked by bitchy banter, melodramatic confessions and enthusiastic tips on wardrobe and make-up. On stage, the drag queens strut their stuff and lip-synch to a soundtrack of dance floor classics from ABBA, Donna Summer and Chaka Khan. It is a world of glitter balls and crop tops, sparkle and theatricality. Even the clothes worn outside the club scene have style and a range of autumnal colours that Rock Hudson might have sported in All That Heaven Allows (1955).
Solo is a contemporary romance rooted in some appealingly old-fashioned influences.There are echoes of a Joan Crawford star vehicle or something Fassbinder might have directed. Simon is instantly attracted to Olivier (Felix Maritaud), a newcomer from France. Impetuous and excitable, Simon wears his emotions close to the surface. An initial spark quickly ignites. The attraction unfolds in the purple glow of sweaty nightclubs and a perfect kiss beneath a swirl of falling snow. It feels like the real deal and the couple are soon inseparable. Olivier is welcomed by Simon’s family and they devise a double-act that pushes Simon to new heights of creativity.
It seems too good to be true and that eventually proves to be the case as Olivier grows increasingly possessive and controlling. His passive aggressive behaviour always leaves Simon feeling that he is a fault. His constant demands isolate Simon from his loved ones, especially his sister and dress designer Maude (Alice Moreault). It becomes apparent that Olivier is as selfish and destructive as Franz Rogowski’s Tomas in Passages. Solo also strays into Xavier Dolan territory with the return of Simon’s long absent mother Claire (Anne-Marie Cadieux), a renowned opera singer who has shown little interest in her family over the years. An awkward reunion feels more like a polite meet and greet with a fan, further shaking Simon’s confidence.
Cinematographer Mathieu Laverdiere, who previously shot Dupuis’s Underground (2020), brings a warm, enveloping glow to the cocoon-like club interiors and dressing-room clutter. The film almost seems to be tipping a nod to All About Eve with the backstage backstabbing, the way Olivier gradually poisons the others against Simon and claims the limelight. The more this undermines Simon, the more the mood shifts to the raw unravelling of Cassavetes Opening Night (1977).
Dupuis is well served by her actors. The female characters generally have less impact but Alice Moreault makes the most of the loyal Maude as she is forced into the role of helpless bystander to her brother’s growing unhappiness. Felix Martaud lends Olivier a light, seductive charm that can always be switched on if it is to his advantage. He also brings the weary air of someone who only wants a relationship on his terms and will suffer neither challenge nor tantrum. Recently seen as Beau’s son in Beau Is Afraid (2023), the prolific Pellerin is perfectly cast as Simon. All windmill arms and wounded heart, his surface confidence as Glory Gore is distinct from the vulnerabilities he reveals as someone unable to believe that he is entirely worthy of love.
Production company: Bravo Charlie
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Producer: Etienne Hansez
Cinematography: Mathieu Laverdiere
Production design: Elise De Blois
Editing: Marie-Pier Dupuis, Dominique Fortin, Maxim Rheault
Music: Charles Lavoie
Main cast: Theodore Pellerin, Felix Maritaud, Alice Moreault, Anne-Marie Cadieux