Pointing and laughing at entitled millenials has become a sport in the media. Television shows like Girls revel in a youthful malaise while the excellent Frances Ha injected optimism into the slacker-sphere. You’re Sleeping Nicole (Tu dors Nicole) is in the same youthful universe but it’s beautifully understated and grumpy in that special 20-something kind of way.
Nicole Gagnon (Julianne Côté) is a 22 year-old living in Quebec, Canada, making the most the family home during summer while her parents are away. Nicole spends her time working occasional shifts at a goodwill store, lazing about with her best friend Véronique (Catherine St-Laurent) and trying to shake a case of insomnia. When Nicole’s older brother (Marc-André Grondin) shows up with his band to record an album in the house, the girls’ friendship is put to the test. Making matters worse is a 10 year-old boy with a crush for Nicole whose confidence for romance is boosted by a pre-pubescent voice drop (provided by Alexis Lefebvre).
The French Canadians have done it again. Co-writer and director Stéphane Lafleur bursts forth from a group of talented bilingual filmmakers making an impact at the moment that includes Xavier Dolan and Philippe Falardeau (Lafleur edited Monsieur Lazhar). It seems like nothing is happening in You’re Sleeping Nicole but that’s the perception of the young characters in their boredom. Freedom is their greatest privilege but Nicole’s discontent overshadows everything. Her brother’s band is recording a song throughout the film that incrementally evolves into something substantial, and it’s a prime example of the unrecognised achievements happening in suburbia.
Lafleur works within microcosm of a ‘coming of age’ story and the plot works like a reverse Sleeping Beauty with Nicole in search of slumber to break out of a rut. Her melancholy is closely tied to the breakdown of a relationship but Lafleur never lets it smother the story or let a relationship define Nicole’s personality. Côté is the perfect grump who can show disdain with the flick of an eyebrow and her performance has a well-defined wistfulness. St-Laurent is impeccable as the friend who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and her clashes with Côté explode with the fury of a thousand scorched friendships. Heartbreak is built into the lives of the characters and it’s never overstated by Lafleur for the sake of milking the audience for emotion. A scene where one of the band members receives a phone call with horrible news is intricately layered with all the emotional beats needed to connect you with the experience.
Lafleur creates a minimalist, black and white suburban environment for Nicole’s circle of friends to inhabit with their endless amounts of leisure time; and it’s far from gloomy. Cinematographer Sara Mishara pulls back the camera on lovey wide portraits of suburban streets, walls of chained bicycles and open fields between houses that Nicole uses as a shortcut. It feels like an endless summer with bright white light forcing you into a squint and the rotating fans humming in the dead of night.
A dry sense of humour permeates throughout You’re Sleeping Nicole and frequent chuckling is often punctuated by the little annoyances in Nicole’s life, mainly in the advances of a young boy with a silky smooth voice that’s an absurdity that works magnificently.
Conjuring substance from nothingness is the magic of You’re Sleeping Nicole; those French Canadians are far too talented.
Cameron Williams – follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW