Tuesday 20 February 2018

Laurence's story is hard to stomach

Paul Whitington

Laurence Anyways

(Club, IFI, 168 minutes)

Director: Xavier Dolan Stars: Melvil Poupaud, Suzanna Clément, Yves Jacques, Nathalie Baye


A 23-year-old French Canadian wunderkind, Xavier Dolan seems drawn to what one might call the cinema of excess. In his 2010 drama Heartbeats, he slathered on the slow-motion entrances and melodramatic pop soundtrack while telling the inconsequential story of a potential ménage a trois, and he's at it again in Laurence Anyways.

Set mainly in the late 1980s and 1990s, it stars French actor Melvil Poupaud as Laurence Alia, a Montreal literature professor whose cosy life is shattered by a life-changing realisation.

Monsieur Alia enjoys a passionate (and, for the viewer, excruciating) relationship with Fred (Suzanne Clément), his longtime girlfriend. He writes poetry and spouts off confidently to his doting students about the shortcomings of Marcel Proust, whose shoes, incidentally, neither Laurence nor his creator are qualified to shine.

Laurence and Fred have talked about having a kid and settling down, but all of that seems suddenly moot when he announces out of the blue that he's a transsexual and must be true to himself.

This means parading into work in heels, pearls and a Chanel suit, and though Fred at first attempts to stick by him (he's not gay), she begins to find the contradictions in their relationship intolerable.

Not half as intolerable as I found Dolan's film, however.

From the very start of Laurence Anyways, we're left in no doubt that here is a movie that thinks a great deal of itself.

Under Dolan's heavy and self-conscious hand, the story stutters fitfully forward, and every time it's on the verge of becoming interesting he smothers it with loud stylistic flourishes that tell us exactly how we're supposed to think and feel.

It's bad art, and a very long film, and you may have better things to do with your time.

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