"Laurence Anyways" concludes Xavier Dolan's unofficial trilogy of life and love. His first venture, the dazzling debut "I Killed My Mother" combines Dolan's own adolescence with a staggering maturity. His next film, "Heartbeats" was stunning to look at and very emotional, if misguided in certain parts.
This film seems to take another step back—it would seem that Dolan is trying to convince his critics that he is capable of doing more.
Dolan has said in interviews that the idea for "Laurence Anyways" came from a story that he heard while working on "I Killed My Mother". A friend of a friend was struggling with her boyfriend's gender crisis...she wanted to stay with him while he transitioned from man to woman. How do you deal with that? Apparently, this was Dolan's answer to that question.
"Laurence Anyways" begins in 1989 and centers around a highschool literature professor named Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud). He is in a relationship with Fred (Suzanne Clément) who is wanting to make it the slow film industry. The two of them have a curiously great relationship—making lists for everything brings them humor.
But something is weighing down on Laurence. He describes it as holding his breath—he tried to hold it as long as he can but now he has to open his mouth and let the air into his lungs...he wants to be a woman.
When he drops that bombshell on Fred, the result is expectedly dramatic. She flits between highs and lows of emotion—flirting with both staying with Laurence and leaving him.
There are so many questions that need to be asked: why? when? how?
Rarely humorous at all, the film is deep and dark and long. When you think back to "Heartbeats" this Dolan film is nearly twice as long as its predecessor. But the main question is: does it merit its screen time? I think the answer is a quiet "yes"; because to be fair, the film overstays its welcome and draws out its story.
We journey with Laurence from 1989 through 1999—this decade of life is bookmarked with pop and classic songs, as is Dolan's want. But what differs here from the director's other film is his eclectic and experimental choice of songs. They disconnect the viewer from the story and don't add anything on...kind of pointless, actually.
The film time jumps around with relish, voice overs from different decades mark the soundtrack as Laurence and his friends and family deal with his transition. The drama is great because the subject matter creates genuine, raw emotions; but Dolan seems unsure of how to steer his film. He goes so many directions at once that it becomes dizzying...they all come back together at the end though.
As usual, the film is stunning to look at; but less hypnotic than the previous two movies.
Suzanne Clément does a magnificent job as a woman love-striken with a man who wants to change his gender. Her face asks all the right questions.
Melvil Poupaud is also quite courageous for choosing this role. He looks scared while trying to be brave, hurt while pretending to be unaffected, and selfish while thinking he's selfless.
In the end, I think that Dolan bit off more than he could chew.
"Laurence Anyways" is depressing in a dismal way...the emotions become so strained that they flatline.
It's overlong and over-thought; but it does give way to some amazing scenes.
If it was half its length, it could have been great.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars