A French-Canadian export weathers the challenges of young womanhood with remarkable alacrity.
CW: Sexual assault, domestic violence, and emotional abuse
French-Canadian export Can You Hear Me?, newly settled on Netflix, makes demands straight from its title. “Can you hear me?”, the three main characters, lifelong friends Ada (Florence Longpré, who also writes many of the episodes), Caro (Ève Landry), and Fabiola (Mélissa Bédard) snip at each other. “Can you hear me?”, Ada’s court-appointed psychiatrist Amélie (Sophie Desmarais) asks her, frequently. “Can you hear me?”, ask their mothers and nieces and boyfriends and bosses.
Who is talking and who is listening and who gets the chance to do either? Can You Hear Me? explores these issues in difficult, but compelling ways.
Can You Hear Me? is promoted as a “dramedy”, but neither part of that portmanteau really covers the emotional whirlwind of the first season (the second is currently airing in Canada). Ada, the primary focus of most of the ten episodes, is in therapy after having “knocked someone out with a hamburger”, and her approach to her daily life initially paints the show as a dark comedy (she notes that she thought the hamburger bun would soften the blow).
Aside from the aforementioned hamburger-based violence, she’s a happy-go-lucky free spirit who likes booze, men, and hanging out with her two besties. But she’s also using said sex and alcohol to cope with anger issues and a troubled relationship with her alcoholic mother.
Longpré’s performance is one of those that is instantly divisive, playing Ada as a goodhearted person who is also a complete brat and frankly not someone most people would choose to spend too much time around. For the first half of the season it seems like a mistake to focus so much on Ada, but the show effectively turns that on its head as it progresses.
Fabiola, the “mother” of the group, is a talented singer-songwriter with a steady job, but she’s also juggling a mooch of a boyfriend, a drug-addict sister, and the care of her young niece. Fabiola is also the only person of color in the friend group and is the focus of the seventh episode, a painfully relevant wake-up call for those who paint Canada as more tolerant than its southern neighbor.
Bédard is a wonder at expressions, playing out a world of heaviness and heartbreak just by looking at herself in a mirror or out of a window. If there’s something the second season needs, it’s more Fabiola.
Who is talking and who is listening and who gets the chance to do either?
And then there’s Caro, the third member of the trio, who is introduced vomiting in response to a text message from her ex-boyfriend. Caro is, to use vernacular I’m too old for, going through it. Caro’s story is parceled out throughout the season, and while I won’t go into spoilers, it’s clear from her flashbacks that she has been the victim of sexual violence.
While Ada and Fabiola (well, mainly Ada) create and deal with drama around her, Caro is mostly internalized and silent, a mystery even to her closest friends. It’s her story that ties the season together, buoyed by Landry’s striking performance as a woman who is barely holding it together.
A vital element of Can You Hear Me? is the socio-economic status of the main characters and their peers. Fabiola is the only employed friend, but is supporting multiple generations of her family and her boyfriend. Ada receives government assistance and is ultimately evicted from her apartment, and while Caro appears to come from the most stable economic background, she’s estranged from her family and lives with a cousin. They sing in the subway for extra cash, and depend on Fabiola to slip them free food at the restaurant she manages, and eventually all three begin to visit Amélie, since each needs help that they cannot afford.
Can You Hear Me? is at its heart a story about friendship, which is where it really shines. The dynamic between Ada, Fabiola, and Caro is strong, but also codependent and tangled in that way that long-term friendships sometimes become. Ada is so convinced that she knows everything about her friends and what they need that she doesn’t actually stop to ask them. Fabiola is beginning to chafe at dealing with Ada’s behavior when she is carrying so much else on her shoulders. And Caro at times seems to be hanging out with her friends only because she doesn’t know what else to do with her days. The three main performances are a joy to watch even as they’re going through hell, and you just want them all to have a moment or two of peace.
Can You Hear Me? doesn’t sugarcoat any bit of its narrative, not friendship or poverty or sex work or domestic violence. But it does showcase the sweetness of everyday life.
Can You Hear Me? is streaming on Netflix.