Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Laurence Anyways Review

For a number of years I have had an interest in the Cannes film festival, but nothing more than a desire to read an article or two after all the films had be screened and the awards handed out, read up on a few highly regarded works (and the ones that are viciously booed, I tend to enjoy those as well) so I could mark my calendar of their eventual wide release date. 2014 was a new year and with it a far more intense passion for seeing as many films as possible, for discovering new auteurs and learning what made their particular styles unique and exciting, and for not limiting myself to the releases that are given massive marketing pushes with the goal of hitting a billion at the box office.

One of the names I noticed being mentioned a lot this year was Xavier Dolan, with bouquets being tossed from every direction at his newest film titled Mommy, and I will be totally honest that I had never even heard of him. I couldn't help but notice an image of him and what caught my eye was how young he appeared to be, and after a quick search my jaw literally dropped for a split second. Xavier Dolan is currently 25 years old, and the 2014 release Mommy is his fifth feature length film thus far. Even more impressive than the idea of merely pumping out films when you are young is the fact that each one has received far more cheers than jeers critically, with the word wunderkind littered all over the results of a Google search of his name. I was floored and humbled by this alone, the mere idea of someone five years younger than me already achieving such amazing things behind the camera, but I needed to see the results for myself, match up the actual craft with the hype. I began this journey last night. 

Laurence Anyways was released in 2012, the third film released by Dolan despite being only 23 years old, and it is a wonderful, mature beyond his years work. The film follows a couple very much in love, a man named Laurence and a woman named Fred (short for Frederique), but things get obviously complicated when Laurence comes clean after reaching his breaking point and unleashes a major secret that had been weighing him down his entire life. Laurence is a man who has never felt quite right in his own skin because he has always believed he was meant to be a woman, and he asks his long time female love to stick by him and continue their relationship while he goes through the transformation.

If I had seen Laurence Anyways first and then discovered the age of Xavier Dolan after, I never would have believed it. This is a film oozing with confidence, proof positive that the year one was born does not indicate maturity as I have seen men twice his age craft silly, amateurish works where as Dolan here handles the material with endless class and wisdom. Even more so than his directorial handle on the film, I am floored by the fact that he also wrote Laurence Anyways, a screenplay filled with authenticity and emotion and patience that made these characters and their relationships feel fully developed and nuanced.

What also must be addressed in this Dolan lovefest of a review are the performances, as no one felt out of place and the words were delivered with ease in a totally natural way. While every single actor did excellent work here, the one who stole the show for me throughout was Suzanne Clement as Fred. I couldn't take my eyes off of her as she dealt with strong conflicted feelings stemming from being totally in love and never wanting to let go of it, yet also searching for normalcy when faced with a life that would forever be viewed as abnormal by the rest of the world. She made me smile, made me laugh, and also broke my heart, and she deserves a ton of credit for making this film as powerful and compelling as it was.

If I had to pick out a flaw of Laurence Anyways it would be with the running time, but even that I criticize with hesitation. On paper it feels as if the story doesn't deserve the nearly three hours dedicated to delivering it, but it actually did move along quite nicely a majority of the time and I appreciated the fact that sequences were executed with patience and the emotional weight of the moment was given a chance to resonate rather than quickly wiped away. Later in the film I did sort of feel the drag though, not enough to really harm the experience but it was slightly noticeable, but that isn't meant to take anything away from the achievement this film is from such a bright young mind.

Perhaps Dolan still has plenty to learn, and films like Laurence Anyways are his raw early point of his career where he is fleshing stuff out and mastering the craft. If that's the case, holy shit watch out. The sky is the limit with this kid.


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