Laurence Anyways


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Laurence Anyways
"Poupaud and Clement subtly delineate their character’s changes while maintaining an intensity that keeps the audience involved amid all the flashy distractions." | Photo: Shayne Laverdiere/Courtesy UniFrance

There comes a time in most directors’ careers when they want to have a crack at the ‘epic’ – an ambitious, sprawling tale with opportunities for big set piece scenes, observations on how the central characters and their world alter with the passage of time – and, of course, lots of embarrassing hair and fashion moments.

Dolan certainly gives us plenty of all three in his third feature, expanding from the tightly-focused low-budget indie palette of his debut I Killed My Mother and his well-received follow-up Heartbeats while sticking to familiar territory – the literary/artistic world of Montreal.

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Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) seems to fit perfectly into this world – a teacher and aspiring writer who’s already beginning to earn some plaudits, he’s stylish, handsome and confident with a cool apartment and a beautiful girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clément) who works in the film industry as a production assistant.

But Laurence has a secret – he’s always felt that, at heart, he’s a woman. And when he explains to Fred that he isn’t gay and still loves her but wants to make the ultimate life change she understandably finds it hard to adjust...

When I reviewed Heartbeats, I said that Dolan was a name to watch and he clearly has talent and flair in abundance. The bravura opening take, in which we glimpse how Laurence has ended his decade-long journey as he narrates his story in voiceover to an interviewer, is a visual delight and sets the scene in style – has he managed to live his life as a woman? Has he found success as a writer? And has his relationship with Fred survived the strain?

The film has many equally powerful and dazzling scenes. But by throwing everything including the kitchen sink at what’s essentially a ‘will they/won’t they’ story, Dolan stretches his subject matter way too thin. As the Nineties progress and the two protagonists split up, get together, split up again etc, acquiring different partners and differing lifestyles along the way one gets the feeling that the increased budget and running time are actually working against the film’s dramatic effect.

And the curse of the multi-hyphenate strikes yet again. As well as being writer/director Dolan also has credits for editing and ‘Costumes’, resulting in plenty of scenes that look like a fashion spread or a music video (or both) but don’t really propel the narrative forward.

A few other voices in the creative team to suggest that perhaps this idea doesn’t quite work or that scene goes on a tad too long would have worked wonders in keeping the film focused on the very poignant love story at its heart. As Fred tries (and often fails) to come to terms with the lifestyle and friends that Laurence acquires with his life-change, but realises that she’s never truly happy without him either, Poupaud and Clement subtly delineate their character’s changes while maintaining an intensity that keeps the audience involved amid all the flashy distractions.

They’re well served by a top-notch supporting cast, with special mention for Baye (whose credits include everything from Truffaut’s Day For Night to Speielberg’s Catch Me If You Can) as Laurence’s brittle, uncomprehending but ultimately loving and protective mum; and Chokri (star of Heartbeats) as Fred’s bohemian sister, permanently drugged-up, hacked-off or both.

Once again, Dolan vividly conjures up the atmosphere of Montreal, giving a sense that despite its arty, liberal air it still has something of a small-town mentality, where Laurence and Fred’s lives are public property even before he attains notoriety. His depictions of glitzy showbiz parties and faceless snowbound suburbs give full rein to his keen eye for a telling image, accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack that includes everything from Visage and Duran Duran (either Nineties Montrealites were a bit retro or he’s lobbed a few personal favourites in anyway) to Beethoven’s 5th and Erik Satie.

I must admit I found also his depiction of the transsexual scene in Montreal somewhat stereotyped – populated, we’re led to believe, entirely by louche and loud attention seekers who dress like Bet Lynch’s more vulgar sister and seem permanently on the point of sticking Judy Garland’s Greatest Hits on the stereo. Even if it is accurate, it’s another overdone digression from the central story.

One can’t fault the ambition (and undoubted accomplishment) of a filmmaker who’s still only 23. There’s much to enjoy and admire here, but much else that simply doesn’t work. He’s got plenty of time, though (he’s already announced his fourth project and, interestingly, it will be his first adaptation, of a play by fellow French Canadian Michel Marc Bouchard). And I’ve a feeling that when he finds the right match of subject matter, storytelling style and visual backdrop, the result will be a bona fide classic.

Reviewed on: 09 Oct 2012
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A teacher and aspiring writer in Nineties Montreal tells his girlfriend he wants to live as a woman.
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Director: Xavier Dolan

Writer: Xavier Dolan

Starring: Melvil Poupaud, Suzanne Clément, Nathalie Baye, Monia Chokri

Year: 2012

Runtime: 159 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada, France

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