There are many reasons to find Xavier Dolan insufferable. His hair, for one: a ridiculous buzz-cut/pompadour that looks like Elvis halfway through his Army trim. Or his propensity for giving self-important interviews telling people how they should and shouldn't critique his movies. But most unforgivable is his precocious talent: Heartbeats is his second movie, it gleams with skill and assurance, and he's only 21. Twenty-one! I can feel myself dying! Better to disguise the envy with annoyance: Look at that fucking prodigy.
But look closer, and notice that Heartbeats needs to be made by someone so young, so confident: It takes the nerve and narcissism of youth to dare to pit your own heartaches up against the lovesickness of Jules and Jim. The most visually arresting dispatch from Canada's young, beautiful and prowling since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Dolan's new work (after the debut I Killed My Mother) is a slow-motion plunge into a flood of pheromones. A Québécois In the Mood for Love in red leopard-print pumps, Heartbeats observes best pals (Monia Chokri and Dolan) both smitten with a curly blond Adonis (Niels Schneider, ominously introduced wearing the candy-heart sunglasses of Sue Lyon in Kubrick's Lolita). As the friends descend into silly rivalry—and somehow end up in the same bed as their mutual crush, without ever establishing his orientation; yep, he's that horrible—their gamesmanship is scored to a French recording of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" by Dalida that eclipses the Nancy Sinatra version used in Kill Bill. That canny recycling is also evident in the costumes—a reminder that one of the advantages of making a movie about hipsters is you can take much of your look from amazing vintage racks.
Dolan is both properly distanced from the blissful aches of infatuation (he divides the acts with faux-documentary interviews with wrecked victims of young romance, all of them very funny) and physically alert to them. I watched with a grin, and my toes tingling. That's one good reason not to hate the kid: He can make you remember what it felt like to believe that requited desire would solve everything. Another reason is that his movie is the recognition that even he can't always get what he wants—a pained admission captured before it curdles into resentment. The movie's original title is Les Amours Imaginaires, and the movie captures the high of first idealizing a human touch in your head, and how the inevitable crash hurts like the end of a world. Heartbeats is a fresh perception of an age-old truth: Love is like a cloud, holds a lot of rain.
90 SEE IT: Heartbeats opens Friday at Living Room Theaters.