Written and directed by Sophie Dupuis, Solo introduces the world to Simon (Theodore Pellerin), a fiery drag artist who lights up the stage nightly. Vibrant and filled with youthful fire, Simon finds himself distracted when he encounters Olivier (Felix Maritaud), the charming drag artist that joins the troupe. Just as the two spark up a romance together, Simon’s long-estranged mother returns. Between her sudden arrival and the toxicity rising within his new relationship, Simon is torn between worlds and finds himself attempting to please everyone in his life.
Set amidst the worlds of trans-dancers, Dupuis ensures that the lights shine most brightly when Simon and Olivier are onstage. With bold colours and music, these moments are meant to be life-giving to her characters and their world. For Simon and Olivier, the stage represents the opportunity to step forth from their lives and find themselves amidst the adoration of others. Credit must be given here to Pellerin and Maritaud who absolutely sparkle onstage, bringing enthusiasm and femininity to their performances.
But Solo is more than a story of music and pomp. Instead, this is a tale about finding one’s soul when there are those around you who seek to steal it away from you. Although he lives with his sister, Simon’s career seems to be on the rise. He is confident and self-assured with an audience that pays to see him.
However, we soon begin to see cracks in the façade.
Broken by a mother who abandoned their family for the sake of her career, Simon seeks validation in what he does with the hopes of gaining her approval. By the same token, his new relationship slowly begins to drain life from his soul as infatuation slowly turns into psychological abuse. Slowly but surely, we watch as Simon disconnects from those who offer hope and healing, while leaning into others that offer nothing back. In this way, Solo shows the damage to be done when we give pieces of ourselves away for the sake of our ambitions.
There’s a certain beauty to Solo in the way that it cares for its characters. Despite its numerous musical numbers, Solo’s emphasis truly is on Simon’s well-being. Similar to the acts that they perform, the music and make up only deflects from the emptiness that they feel when they are not on stage. Like everyone else, they are looking for answers in the world that does not always understand them—and performing provides moments of clarity that cannot be undervalued.
To step out on stage is to show themselves to the world. But it does not entirely define them.
As such, Simon’s journey toward self-discovery takes place out of the limelight as much as it does within it. There is a disconnect between his bravado as a performer and the brokenness of his soul that must be acknowledged.
As he reassembles the pieces of his heart, only then can he truly be Solo.
Solo is now playing at TIFF ’23. For more information, click here.