Laurence Anyways

Here we go again… I swear to God, I really wanted to love this new film by Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan.

From the get-go, I’ve been saying the guy undeniably has talent as a filmmaker. His use of light and colour is often marvelous and, shot to shot and moment to moment, there is always plenty to admire in his work. Among other things, he clearly pays a lot of attention to the look of the costumes, hairstyles and sets, and the art direction in general is as lush as it gets in his movies.

He also has a way with music cues, effectively lining up his film with pop songs (Fever Ray, The Cure, Jean Leloup, Visage, Depeche Mode, etc.) and classical music (Prokofiev, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Vivaldi, etc.); I could have done without some of the kitschier tracks (Marie-Denise Pelletier, Julie Masse, Luce Dufault, etc.), but hey.

For this third feature, Dolan has even somewhat eased up on the purely aesthetic slow-motion filler and his style feels more organic and distinctive than ever. As mentioned, there is a lot to enjoy in Laurence Anyways, as there was in J’ai tué ma mère and Les Amours imaginaires.

Alas, I still found myself unable to truly feel engaged by it, even though the themes explored are certainly interesting. There’s a lot of potential for emotion, humor and thought in the story of a man (Melvil Poupaud) who suddenly announces to his girlfriend (Suzanne Clément) that he wants to become a woman, and some of it is present in Dolan’s film…

But a lot of it gets lost in a whole lot of digressions, repetitions, celebrity cameos, campiness and melodrama, in my opinion. More so, I have to admit that even though Poupaud and Clément are occasionally affecting, there are many times when I found their characters to be an obnoxiously loud and hysterical couple of drama queens, so I can’t say I cared much whether or not their supposedly great love survived his sex change. Oh, and even though the story stretches over 10 years (from 1989 to 1999), there’s no way the unevenly paced  Laurence Anyways had to last 160 minutes.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it will be received at Cannes, here in Quebec and in the rest of the world. I’m sure many folks will fall head over heels for it… Some may hate it… And others, like me, will appreciate its qualities but still not feel like it’s a home run. Maybe next time will be the one?  It did take Kim Nguyen four features before knocking one out of the park (with this year’s Rebelle), right?