Alys Robi was our first great international star, but today she’s almost as (in)famous for her stays in mental institutions. Hence, the film opens in 1952 as she’s about to get lobotomized, then it flashes back to the standout moments in her personal and professional life. We see her sing around Québec City at 5, running away at 13 to perform in Montréal with la Poune, then keep growing in popularity until she’s singing in London, through South America and even in Hollywood.
This sounds like an inspirational rags-to-riches story, but it’s hard to enjoy it as that since the movie keeps flashing to Alys in the nuthouse. It’s also difficult to go for the idea that Robi was a woman too independent for her time because the film defines her mostly through the men she loves. She keeps falling for the great men she works with (notably Olivier Guimond and Lucio Agostini) even though they’re married, then she gets hurt and goes into depression. You never get a clear handle of what makes her tick besides the manic-depressive thing.
This is a rather superficial picture, zooming through events as if it was a trailer for itself, all montage, one-liners and overwhelming music. Still, Pascale Bussières does what she can in the lead and she displays surprising singing skills when she takes on Robi’s kitschy “Latin-American serenades”. Director Denise Filiatrault obviously cares about her subject, but she fails to make Alys Robi’s tragic story resonate as more than a melodramatic Movie-Of-the-Week.