I know the difference between a transvestite (which I’m assuming the guy on the train was) and someone whose transgendered (like Laurence) but the one thing they both have in common is that they don't necessarily feel comfortable in the skin they were given and/or the image/expectation that society has either directly or indirectly put on them. There's quite a few scenes in Laurence Anyways that truly convey the bravery it takes to not only identify with being another gender but to face the world with this new identity when so many people have always known you as a man (in Laurence's case). Laurence Alia is a fictitious character but he represents so many real people.
I like Dolan's approach to cinema even through its still developing. It serves as a contrast against all the other depressing & slow shit I love so much. I do see him eventually coming in to his own style but right now he's still stuck somewhere in between selected scenes from In The Mood For Love and an androgynous Human League music video. But I'm still a fan. I mean, what’s there to not like about him? He has a lot of drive for such a young guy (he’s currently in pre-production on his fourth feature), he often works triple duty as actor, director & writer, the musical selection in his work is excellent, he makes hipsters seem appealing & interesting and he does the voice of Stan for French-Canadian South Park episodes.
|In A Year Of 13 Moons (1978)|
|Paris Is Burning (1991)|
|Hedwig & The Angry Inch (2001)|
His previous work already touched on the complexity of sexuality and sexual identity so I assumed Laurence Anyways would be a masterpiece. I Killed My Mother dealt with teenage sexuality and Heartbeats dealt with a love triangle between a straight woman, a gay man and a metro/borderline androgynous, yet straight, male. Focusing on the blurriness of sexual identity seemed like a natural progression for the young director but he got a lil' too caught up in style.
*Throughout this write-up I’ll be shifting between using “he” & “she” when referencing Laurence because the character does identify as being a male in the beginning*
In Laurence Anyways Melvin Poupaud plays Laurence Alia - A seemingly happy male college professor in a relationship with a beautiful woman ("Fred") who suddenly breaks down on his 30th birthday and confesses that he’s been living a lie all these years and wants to live the rest of his life as a woman. At first Fred doesn't get it and just thinks Laurence is simply coming out as gay but Laurence still wants to be with her. After some initial hesitation on Fred's part they reconcile and make a go at trying to maintain their relationship but Fred finds it too difficult and leaves Laurence only to get back together years later and then leave Laurence again. I understand relationships can he a bit complicated but after a while I found the on-again/off-again relationship between Laurence & Fred to be a little tiresome. They're together, they break up, they're back together again then they break up again (their story spans a decade). Fred does genuinely love Laurence but just finds it too difficult to be in a relationship with someone transgendered.
Laurence Anyways is told from the title character’s perspective but we also get some outside perspective from Fred and the difficulties that come along with trying to be in a relationship with someone who identifies with a gender that you aren’t necessarily attracted too. Suzanne Clement (Fred) gives the standout performance as Laurence's depressed, confused, loving & vulnerable soul mate. Monia Chokri, co-star of Dolan's last film Heartbeats, gives a good supporting role as Fred's supportive yet cynical sister.
Clement hits homerun in this scene...
Laurence faces plenty of prejudices through the course of the film beyond people just staring at her. She gets beat up, her father essentially disowns her (although there was clearly some deeper stuff there prior to Laurence's gender change that the film doesn't really get in to) and there's a scene where Fred stands up for Laurence at a restaurant after a waitress makes things uncomfortable. I still had issues with the Laurence character. This goes back to what I said earlier about her being complex. Yes we're supposed to sympathize for Laurence in her struggle to be identified as a woman but Xavier Dolan makes her a bit of asshole at times. This is something I have yet to hear anyone address. I guess that is a progressive move on Dolan's part. Instead of making Laurence some angelic martyr for the LGBT community he makes her human with many faults. In between her relationship with Fred, Laurence lives with a woman named Charlotte who she treats like shit (probably due to the fact that Laurence is still in love with Fred). In the middle of the film Laurence leaves Charlotte and runs off with Fred and we never hear from her again. It’s almost like Xavier Dolan treated Charlotte the same way Laurence did. She’s just brushed off to the side and we never hear from her again after being unfairly dumped.
Xavier Dolan kinda lets his love of nostalgia get in the way. Yes, the large majority of the story takes place between the late 80’s through the 90’s but the film is almost drowned in neon colors, swatch watches, big hair, synthesizers & acid washed jeans. Sometimes it gets to the point where you wanna shout at the screen saying; “I GET IT! WE’RE IN THE 80’S! TONE IT DOWN A LITTLE.” 160 minutes is more than enough time to make a strong coherent film but Xavier Dolan uses up too much time crafting pretty looking isolated moments and sequences instead of one whole film. Laurence Anyways is far from awful or terrible. It just could have been better. Clearly you can see I had a lot to say about it which counts for something. I do see growth & maturity in Dolan, who stayed behind the camera this time minus one super quick cameo, and I still look forward to his next film. I wouldn’t even mind giving this a second chance. Perhaps I was just worn out by the 30+ movies I’d seen at Toronto prior to watching this.