The first international trailer for The Death and Life of John F. Donovan has landed online, offering a look at writer/director Xavier Dolan’s long-delayed English-language debut. The dramatic epic was shot in two halves back in 2016 and 2017, but Dolan famously tinkered with the structure pretty heavily in post-production, going so far as to completely remove the film’s principal antagonist character played by Jessica Chastain.
The finished story chronicles the correspondence between a teen-TV-heartthrob-turned-movie-star named John F. Donovan (Kit Harington) and a young fan named Rupert (Jacob Tremblay), in which Donovan confides his biggest secrets and insecurities. Donovan is a closeted gay man living in the limelight who’s up for a major superhero role, just as his private life runs the risk of being made public. The film also includes a frame story in which the adult Rupert (Ben Schnetzer) recounts his friendship with Donovan to a reporter played by Thandie Newton.
The film screened at the Toronto International Film Festival last year where I got the chance to see it, and it certainly takes some big swings. Unfortunately, Dolan simply tries to tackle too much within one story, and it ends up being a bit of a hot mess. It wants to be a commentary on fame, superhero culture, privacy, bullying, homosexuality, and family estrangement all at once, and given the fact that the story is split between three protagonists, it proves insurmountable. There’s an unmistakable charm to the film, however, and Harington is solid—it’s not a complete loss. But the film has yet to secure domestic distribution and Dolan has already moved on to make another smaller-scale French-Canadian drama.
Check out the international trailer for The Death and Life of John F. Donovan below. The film also stars Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, and Michael Gambon.