Even if you’re up for watching a drama about transgenderism, the 4:3 screen ratio and 168-minute runtime of Québécois Xavier Dolan’s (If I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats) Laurence Anyways is likely to curb your enthusiasm. Though Dolan’s film is vividly shot and set to a fantastic soundtrack of peppy licks, its agreeably ramshackle composition can only do so much against the director’s maddeningly verbose script and punishing lack of editorialisation. Its lengthy runtime begets an epic love story of sorts, tracing the genesis of Laurence (Melvil Poupad) and Fred’s (Suzanne Clement) romantic relationship, from youthful, aloof pretentiousness – making ridiculous claims like “dark chocolate minimises our pleasure” – to Laurence’s later shock announcement that he wants to become a woman.
Dolan’s film is a fine sit when it gets to the point – such as the initial confrontation between the couple once Laurence makes his intentions known – but even the most emotionally important exchanges to the narrative’s fabric are presented with such a painstaking, sluggish pace that the pic only truly feels alive during its ironically perfunctory music video-esque portions, particularly a ravishing scene in which Fred dances in a ballroom to Visage’s classic “We Fade to Grey”.
Flouting the expected convention – in that Fred initially chooses to stay with Laurence – there is seemingly plenty of interest to mine here, and indeed, for roughly half his film’s length, Dolan manages to explore not only Laurence’s tug-of-war with his girlfriend, his mother, and the school at which he works, but also the broader argument about whether transgenderism is simply a mental illness. Some wry humour – usually spewed from the mouth of Laurence’s mother – certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Things start to sag in the mid-section, however, especially once Laurence joins a transgender troupe, and Dolan does his film no favours by filling it with shamelessly overblown melodrama; the portent and self-indulgence on display is staggering. It all grinds to a painfully distended halt in its final third, as stylistic masturbation becomes the order of the day, and the various scenery-chewing screaming matches become unintentionally amusing in their excess. Ultimately, viewers will be forced to consider whether the film’s sparse narrative rewards are worth the 168-minute investment. For most, I imagine the answer is no.
Laurence Anyways is in UK cinemas November 30th.
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