Unauthorized Celine Dion biopic that can't use her name is giving us 30 Rock vibes
Pop musicians are icons in our culture. It's little wonder filmmakers often want to make art about them. But the complicated legalities of gaining rights (not just to music, but also to life stories) can make the adaptation process a little imperfect. The latest example of the fun that can result is the trailer for Aline, a new movie based on the life of pop queen Celine Dion, which uses various Dion songs, but for some reason not her name.
The trailer for Aline first hit the internet last fall, but is getting renewed attention following the official announcement of the 2021 Cannes lineup, where it will play (albeit out of competition for the festival's prestigious awards). The trailer inhabits an Uncanny Valley of sorts, where lead actress Valérie Lemercier is playing a character named "Aline Dieu" who sings Dion songs like "Let's Talk About Love" and falls in love with a much older man – mimicking Dion's real-life romance with her late manager René Angélil, who was 26 years her senior. The trailer openly boasts that Aline is based on Dion's life, and yet for some reason remains unofficial and doesn't use her name in the film.
It's therefore hard not to think of "Jackie Jormp-Jomp," the classic 30 Rock episode parodying unofficial musician biopics like this. There, actress Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) is trying to play Janis Joplin in a movie, but the lack of access to the proper rights forces her to play a character hilariously named Jackie Jormp-Jomp instead, and sing a song called "Chunk of My Lung" instead of "Piece of My Heart."
There are other real-life examples, too. The recent David Bowie biopic Stardust used the icon's name but had no access to his songs, significantly dampening the effect. Back in 2017, an unofficial Madonna biopic called Blonde Ambition was being planned, but fell apart after Madonna herself rebuked it and decided to direct her own film about her life, co-writing the screenplay with Diablo Cody.
It is possible to make great art under these conditions, it's just rare. When Bowie was still alive, he vetoed the use of his songs in director Todd Haynes' 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, based heavily on Bowie's role in the glam rock music of the early 1970s. But Haynes was able to get music by Lou Reed and others, and recruited accomplished musicians like Radiohead's Thom Yorke to perform as members of the fictionalized bands. The result was a beloved cult film that EW critic Owen Gleiberman described at the time as "a ravishing rock dream."
Years before Velvet Goldmine, Haynes made a short film about the late musician Karen Carpenter and her struggles with anorexia, using Barbie dolls instead of actors. When the family discovered Haynes had used multiple songs by The Carpenters without acquiring the proper licensing, they successfully sued to remove Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story from official circulation. Nevertheless, the film remains beloved (EW put it on our list of the 25 best cult movies) and can almost always be found on YouTube somewhere.
Alas, it seems safe to say that Aline doesn't quite have the same juice. Watch the trailer above to see for yourself.