The Death & Life of John F. Donovan

The Death & Life of John F. Donovan ★½

Unfortunately, the critics were right with this one. Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is incomprehensibly, and sadly, a complete misfire for the director. It’s baffling for an artist whose sensibilities have produced some of the strongest films of the decade, to have stumbled this hard.

This is Book of Henry levels bonkers. The fact that they both star Jacob Tremblay is an unfortunate coincidence, however Dolan does him absolutely no favours by giving him dialogue that imagines that all eleven-year olds are gifted with the intelligence and internal wisdom of a full-grown adult.

While Dolan has always flexed with an out-of-left-field needle drop or two in the past, the soundtrack and its usages play off like a parody. From Adele, to a cover of “Stand By Me” by Florence and the Machine, to fucking “Bittersweet Symphony”, there is no music cue that feels organic or earned.

There are scenes that, as individual moments, could play wonderfully when removed from the context of the contrived and melodramatic narrative that strings them together. But they somehow land flat when strung together, as scene after scene of bizzare and overwritten moments are competing for attention when what the film needs is a steady hand to guide it.

I’m left reeling, trying to piece together exactly what went wrong with this production, and how exactly it managed to go so far off the rails. It’s a disappointment to have such a strong director deliver such a subpar feature, and hopefully Dolan is able to course-correct in the future.

Ashton liked these reviews