Our love wasn’t ‘safe,’ but it wasn’t dumb. What is it you want, Fred? What is it? A child? A house? I can give you that. I’ll change.
Year Released : 2012
Director : Xavier Dolan
Cast : Melvil Poupaud, Suzanne Clément, Nathalie Bay, Monia Chokri, Magalie Lépine-Blondeau and Yves Jacques
In recent reviews I have been focusing on Xavier Dolan films, writing my reviews as I see his films for the first time, rather than writing reviews on films I have ever seen, and whilst “J’ai tué ma mère” and “Tom à la ferme” were both excellent, Dolan’s “Laurence Anyways” falls someway short of it’s predecessors.
With a lengthy run time of just short of three hours, “Laurence Anyways” doesn’t have the same charm as Dolan’s previous films, the characters aren’t as interesting and if anything, the film is about an hour too long as there are too many characters that add nothing to the film.
Whilst it hasn’t put me off Dolan’s films, far from it, there was just something missing that had made his previous films so delightful and whilst the aforementioned were both 9/10 (at least), I am struggling to think of this as nothing more than a 5/10, and even then I’m being generous.
Laurence (Poupaud) is an award winning novelist and literature teacher in Montreal. When he turns 30 he is due to have a romantic evening with his girlfriend, Fred (Clément), but when she surprises him by saying that they are going to go to New York for the weekend, Laurence bursts out in anger and reveals that he can no longer hide that he wants to be a woman. Understandably shocked, Fred takes several days to decide that she will stick by Laurence as he transitions.
Reactions from the local community are mainly negative and Laurence is frequently harassed on the street and his situation isn’t helped when he is fired from his job due to parent complaints. Growing further and further apart, Laurence and Fred split up after Fred starts dating Albert (David Savard).
As Laurence goes through his transition, he meets several unusual characters, including the Rose family and new romantic interest Charlotte (Lépine-Blondeau), but all the while he is still in love with Fred.
Positives about the film…..
I can certainly relate to the Laurence character on some level. Being transgender myself I thought that the first hour or so of the film was very similar to my own experiences to when I first started telling my friends and family, as well as the excellent scene where Laurence admits to becoming terrified about entering the female toilets at his school. That was done in excellent fashion
In my previous reviews for Dolan films I have used the word “real” on a regular basis and for the first hour or so of this film, it continued along that theme. Having experienced very similar things to Laurence, I could definitely see the realism in it’s approach and for that, I commend it.
There is also another fabulous rant scene in a Dolan film this time Fred has had enough of a waitress’ questioning. The scene can be found below as the pure passion shown by Fred is a testament to the actress in the only scene where she is actually not tediously dull.
Much like his previous films, Dolan also includes several scenes that are full of vibrancy and colour, whereas most of the rest of the film has a dull pallet. This works well in my opinion as you know that what is happening is out of the ordinary and that what you’re watching is either a completely different state of emotion for the character, or indeed a dream like state. This film’s example comes from when Laurence and Fred are walking along a path and all of a sudden a lot of bright laundry just falls around them.
Despite a very positive and real, it was hard to really get behind Laurence as a character, the longer the film went on, the less interested I got. For the first hour Laurence is very likeable and passionate about numerous things, but after that he just seems to lose something and was no longer than interesting.
Probably the biggest contention of the story for me was the Rose family, who feel like nothing more than filler and ultimately add nothing to the story other than as some friends for Laurence, which I get in some ways but realistically they actually add nothing to the story. If anything they actually become quite an annoyance as none of them show anything other than one aspect of their personality. It’s the same with Fred’s sister, who’s only character trait seems to be that she doesn’t like transgendered individuals, there is nothing else that she does during the film other than scold Laurence for his decisions and Fred for her’s to initially stay with Laurence. and as I said, it feels like they are there to be nothing more than filler in an almost three hour run time.
The secondary characters feel like nothing more than filler for the near 3 hour run time and this was also referenced by numerous professional critics, and whilst a long run time isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it certainly needs some interesting characters to keep it going. Dolan is a self confessed massive fan of Titanic, a film that exceeds three hours, but the reason that works is that there are numerous interesting characters in that film and you route for the two main characters, I don’t get that with this film. Neither Laurence or Fred are interesting enough to hold a near three hour run time together, and add in a poor selection of secondary characters, it makes you realise that this film is AT LEAST an hour too long.
One thing I also found a little strange was that even after he has admitted that he wants to be female, Laurence never actually changes his name, nor does the character encourage anyone to say anything other than Laurence. The film is set over a period of ten years, most of which Laurence spends living as a woman and I can only assume that by the end she has completed her transition, yet the name doesn’t change. One possible theory is that not changing his name means that people can still associate the new works to those that she won awards for before she started transitioning, but even then it is strange not to have changed name.
Lastly, something that truly bugged me, on a regular basis the characters switch between French and English mid-sentence for seemingly no reason. Now, don’t me me wrong, I’m fine with not needing subtitles, but why are they suddenly speaking English mid-sentence before going back to French? You may have noticed an example in the video clip above where towards the end she switches to English. Now, I appreciate this is set in Canada and not France so people can speak French and English, but it makes very little sense to just switch.
Having now completed my Dolan trilogy (there are other films but I wanted to do three reviews for this site to make it seem like I could give a more detailed description of his work) I can say that I do enjoy his work but for me this was the weakest of the three films that I have seen. ” “J’ai tué ma mère” has a great relationship and dynamic between it’s two characters, “Tom à la ferme” had great character development, “Laurence Anyways” has neither of those.
It’s such as a shame as I really wanted to round off my trilogy of reviews of Dolan films with a third positive review, but I can’t.
The characters just aren’t that compelling and the majority of them are one dimensional. Maybe what this film was missing as the presence of Dolan on screen, which has been one of the main positive points from the previous films.
Watch the other two. Don’t watch this.