The hype surrounding ‘Laurence Anyways’ had me anxious from the very start. Having seen and loved what Xavier Dolan did with ‘Heartbeats’, I was really excited for the next step of his career. With a clear knack for style, I was truly happy to hear all the talk about the substance found within ‘Laurence Anyways’. I have not seen ‘I Killed My Mother’, Dolan’s debut (but I plan to shortly), but I did note that as beautiful and soulful as ‘Heartbeats’ was, it was very much like ‘Jules et Jim’ without substance. If Dolan could mesh his undeniable sense of visual with a richly developed core, he could create a true masterpiece.
‘Laurence Anyways’ is a masterpiece.
To say that Xavier Dolan may be the best thing to happen to queer cinema is an understatement, although it really does bear repeating. It goes deeper than that though. Dolan is one of the freshest, most excited faces in modern cinema, period. With voices such as Dolan and McQueen and Zeitlin (let’s see what he does with film #2), things are looking really good for the future of film.
‘Laurence Anyways’ is one of those films that are hard to shake once you see it. I watched this last night and I’m still shaken from the experience. I have seen very few films that have affected me in the same way, possibly none to be honest. With ‘Laurence Anyways’, Dolan has created one of the finest films ever composed, every crafted and ever completed. The reason for this is hard to put into words because quite frankly the reason isn’t so simple. In fact, finding a way to shape my thoughts here into a review is proving to be extremely difficult because it find that I have so much to say and yet no idea of where to start or how to coherently express them. I have been touched so deeply by this film and I fear I’ll never be able to do these feelings justice.
But I’ll try.
The film’s plot follows a thirty-five year old teacher named Laurence who has been in a relationship with Fred (short for Frederique) for four years. They are a perfect match, and the first twenty minutes or so of the film do a beautiful job of exposing their fit to us. We see them laugh and play and connect on a level that goes beyond average relationships. Then the waters of their relationship are stirred deeply when Laurence exposes his deepest, darkest secret. Laurence has been struggling with an internal contradiction. His body is clearly male and yet his mind tells him that he is female. He hates his reflection and finds his appearance repulsive. He wants to finally live the life he was meant to live. This is obviously a shock to Fred, who takes a moment to collect her thoughts before diving headfirst into her new relationship with Laurence, one that isn’t so clearly defined and yet more honest and genuine. Determined to make things work, the hard times are only beginning, and the remainder of the film tackles this beautiful relationship as it grows, shatters, mends and then ultimately comes to terms over the course of ten years.
The beautiful thing about ‘Laurence Anyways’ is that it has such natural light. It feels so blatantly honest and sincere, never falling into clichéd plot-holes or fashioning itself on a familiar ‘Hollywood’ course. There were so many opportunities for Dolan to milk his character’s situation or produce scenes of obvious manipulation (that bar scene could have gone a completely different direction, as could the board meeting scene) and yet Dolan knows where his focus needs to be and so he delivers a film that feels very invested in truth and a natural progression and presentation of character. It would have been so easy to purely sympathize with Laurence and make everyone in his way out to be a villain or sorts, but Dolan gives us a complete story without prejudice. The film felt so pure and non-judgmental. We come to understand, not only Laurence and Fred but everyone, from Laurence’s mother to Fred’s sister thanks to the layers of detail that Dolan gives each character.
I also applaud how un-sexualized this film is. When you think of transsexual storylines, it would have been so easy to exploit the sexuality of Laurence, maybe making that a plot point in itself, but Dolan refuses such lazy plotting. Instead he really made this a character piece that spoke to the inner person and not the sexual side of things, which I found to be so effective and refreshing. Even the idea that Laurence was not gay made the focus of this film not on his sexuality but on the inner struggle of identity itself. Really, Dolan kept the focus of this film in the right place every step of the way, and I truly applaud him for that.
But Dolan is not the only person who made this film work. The performances he coaxes out of his two leads (as well as a few of his supporting players) is astonishing. As the title character, Melvil Poupaud has a very heavy task. He has to convincingly portray an attractive masculine man who desires to be, and then completely transforms into, a woman. He does this with fearless abandon. The inner turmoil is heartbreaking, but even more than that, the confidence he imbues his character towards the films end is remarkable. Suzanne Clement is a true revelation here though. She owns this movie. As the jilted Fred, her cycle of emotions is so hard to watch, it is that real and exposed.
And still, the film’s merits don’t end there. Dolan is a true showman, and he knows how to frame his films in a way that tug at all of our senses. Visually, ‘Laurence Anyways’ is haunting. The natural light used seeps into every frame to highlight the actors, their faces, their clothes (Clement is dressed to the hilt every time) and the use of music here is crushing. Not only is Nioa’s score perfectly placed within the fabric of the film, but Dolan’s understanding of music in general and his composition of the film’s soundtrack is stellar. The final scene is already a doozy (I was bawling like a baby) but the use of Craig Armstrong’s ‘Let’s Go Out Tonight’ was genius. The only other director I can think of that understands the importance of music within a film is Sophia Coppola.
In the end, ‘Laurence Anyways’ is a film about self-discovery and loving one’s self, but it is also a sharp and brutally honest look at truly loving another person and the lasting stain they will leave on your soul no matter where their life’s journey takes them.
I give this film an A+, and I can't stress that + enough. This is not just the best film I've seen this year, this is the best film I've seen this decade and possibly one of the top ten films I've seen in my life, and I mean that with the utmost sincerity. Oscar won't touch this, sadly, but it should honestly be considered in every category. The term 'masterpiece' was made for films like 'Laurence Anyways', a film that not only has a remarkable story to tell, but it understands how to tell it in a remarkable way.