Jean-Marc Vallée returned to screens this past weekend with his latest offering, Dallas Buyers Club, starring Matthew McConaughey as unlikely AIDS crusader Ron Woodroof. Vallée has emerged as one of Quebec and Canada’s most unique and most musically-obsessed voices since he burst on the scene in 2005 with his debut feature C.R.A.Z.Y. but fans expecting another in the lineage of his debut or 2011’s Café de Flore are in for another right turn, of sorts.
In between those two highly emotional, highly musical films, Vallée “went Hollywood” and made his first English-language feature: The Young Victoria. That film marked a major stylistic shift, especially from C.R.A.Z.Y. which had a very personal feel and was absolutely loaded with music.
Suddenly, Vallée was out making serious, English-language biopics when he’d found a rabid audience through his debut, which looked at a very home-grown story about family, sexuality, the Church and redemption. C.R.A.Z.Y. was loaded with music, including Patsy Cline, David Bowie and in a memorable revelation, The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”.
With Dallas Buyers Club, Vallée moves towards a greater focus on story than soundtrack. But that doesn’t mean it’s not without its share of calculated musical cues. After using over an hour’s worth of music in C.R.A.Z.Y. and nearly that much in Café de Flore, Vallée dropped the needle on just 25 minutes of music in Dallas Buyers Club.
After a trailer that featured the likes of The Heavy (“What Makes a Good Man?”) and Alabama Shakes (“You Ain’t Alone”), Dallas Buyers Club starts off - after a party sequence set to Shuggie Otis - to a fairly standard blend of country and western. Naturally, with a story set in Texas in the late 80s and early 90s a country vibe will emerge and Vallée submits to that over the film`s first half, highlighting the likes of Kenny Rogers’ “Ruby, Don`t Take Your Love to Town” in lieu of the modern tracks featured in the trailer.
However, when Jared Leto’s character (Rayon) enters the narrative, Dallas Buyers Club finds its musical hook. As soon as Woodroof makes his turn to doing something about his illness and cuts Rayon into the deal, both the action and the soundtrack pick up.
As a glam-wannabe Rayon is obsessed with Marc Bolan and T-Rex. The band takes over the soundtrack at first strained through concrete walls as Rayon plays them on a tiny tape deck and later in full-decibel glory, scoring Woodroof’s global crusade to get his hands on as much unapproved medication as he can.
While Dallas Buyers Club is a definite departure from his French-language films it is less of an about-face than The Young Victoria was, meaning audiences should still see flares of the filmmaker’s personality in the narrative.
Vallée is a director who openly admits to loving music as a means to tell stories. While there’s less total music in Dallas Buyers Club, it is an extremely focus and cultivated use of a set cycle of songs. If you’re a Vallée fan, you may have to wait for his next effort for the next Café de Flore, but until that comes along, learn to love his latest obsession with a highlight from T-Rex’s 1972 classic The Slider.