As its title suggests, French-Canadian series Can You Hear Me? is about people who want to be heard and comforted. They don’t look like matinee idols and live on the fringes of society. They go through a lot. But despite all that, it manages to be one of the funniest shows I’ve seen recently.
Meet Ada (Florence Longpré), Carolanne (Ève Landry), and Fabiola (Mélissa Bédard), three messy friends from a messy Quebec ghetto. Ada is a prostitute with anger management issues and has to make mandatory visits to a therapist on account of a recent incident. She has no qualms about going to any extent to survive. Carolanne is a moody, tomboyish woman who is grappling with a relationship issue and an unwelcome pregnancy.
Fabiola is a manager at a Burrito joint who has to deal with a junkie sister and her daughter. But she believes in Jesus. Oh, and she has an eating disorder. These characters exhibit behaviour that is weird, unacceptable and gross to the regular folks. You may not agree with their lifestyle, but you can’t help but feel empathy for their plight. Things are so bad for them that they sometimes team up to sing gospels at train stations to make a quick buck. Yes, they live under grim conditions and go through extreme mood swings, but they still remain endearing. They manage to find humour in their predicament and make it through each day, no matter what happens. There is a near Dostoevskian quality to them.
One of the series’ plus sides is its brief runtime. Each of the ten episodes run below 25 minutes. It’s a sensible move because, given the subject matter, I don’t think an hour-long episode would be palatable.
Thankfully, the competent performances of the three women keep us watching, regardless of the mood swings and overwhelming chaos encountered by their characters on a daily basis.
There is some warmth to be found in their friendship. They bond over vulgar jokes and witty comments about each other’s shortcomings. They find comfort in each other because there is no one else, not even their parents. You see, that’s one thing they share — their strained relationship with their parents. Ada learns her mother was a prostitute herself and that her father could be one of her clients. Carolanne’s parents live far away, they want her back, but a past incident keeps her from going back. As for Fabiola, she has an ill grandmother at home.
Can You Hear Me? can make some people uncomfortable at times. But one has to keep in mind that every time Ada utters an un-politically correct line, it’s a reflection of her character and her circumstances, not of the show. So when Ada calls Fabiola ‘fat’, the latter is okay with it. These characters are constantly making fun of each other and they can take it. That’s the milieu they grew up in and sometimes it’s a normal thing among close friends.
There are no fancy frames here. The camera work is raw, with all the unpleasant stuff depicted the way it is supposed to be, which is another factor that could make some uncomfortable. But because the emotional damage of these characters is very much palpable, the experience of watching them is strangely comforting. Some films and shows have that ‘group therapy’ vibe. Can You Hear Me? is one of those.