Cinema review - Laurence Anyways

Posted on: 19 November 2012 by Tony Kirwood

50connect member, Tony Kirwood, reviews Xavier Dolan's visually ambitious study of gender and relationships, Laurence Anyways.

Having your man tell you he wants to become a woman must count among life’s trickier moments. This conundrum - how can you love a person set on becoming someone completely different? - faces Fred (Suzanne Clément) in “Laurence Anyways”. 

What’s more, Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) drops his bombshell just as she’s trying to lure him to a lust-filled trip to New York. 

She’s headstrong, sexy and bipolar, he’s introspective and literary. They’re on the fringes of Montreal’s glitzy media world of the late 1980s. We follow their splits and reunions over the next decade as they struggle to survive this drastic realignment of their roles.

Laurence Anyways trailer

Director Xavier Dolan is visually ambitious. He favours character above plot and isn’t afraid of a slow pace. The tone, like Fred, veers wildly: through naturalistic handheld camerawork to operatic excess and magic realism. 

There’s a moment of the latter when Fred, estranged from Laurence in an affluent but sterile marriage, reads one of his poems. Water suddenly floods from the ceiling, soaking both her and the bijou sofa. It’s a powerful, complex image which captures the dryness of her current life, her sadness and Laurence’s fluidity.

Laurence’s journey, Dolan insists, is revolutionary as much as personal. It’s a pity, then, that we see so little of one. The Big Change doesn’t really add up to much.

While Poupaud makes a convincing enough woman, Dolan’s script lacks a compelling vision of gender. After the operation Laurence actually becomes more male in dress (trousers) and behaviour (boorish). An intriguing development maybe, but soon Fred is rejecting him again because she wants a man. 

At two hours and forty minutes, the film needs a few snips itself. My sagging interest was kept by some stunning images and Suzanne Clément’s incendiary performance. She’s been winning prizes already and will win bigger ones.

At the end, fully a woman, Laurence winks at an interviewer. We cut back fifteen years and see him give the same wink to Fred. 

He’s just the same old – how else can I put it? – guy. Laurence anyways.

It’s a charming image but, after the revolutionary rhetoric, one which I couldn’t help thinking a bit of a cop out. 

“Laurence Anyways” opens in nationwide cinemas on 30 November. 

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