For Laurence, becoming a woman is a matter of survival. He compares his life to holding his breath underwater for over 30 years, with the decision to finally transition allowing him to finally surface for air, and become the person he always felt he was inside. And while those around him are surprised, a funny thing happens...he receives almost unanimous support. After some understandably long thinking, Fred agrees to stay by his side while Laurence's mother Julienne (Nathalie Baye) refuses to be surprised, and supports him as best she can despite their fractured relationship. Even at the school where he teaches, his supervisor Michel (Yves Jacques), the staff, and even the student body, doesn't bat an eye. Nevertheless, the uncertainty of where their relationship will go is ultimately the undoing of Laurence and Fred...but hardly the end of their story.
Spanning a decade and told in flashback, Dolan's nearly three hour film can easily be described as epic. And while the story is centered around transsexuality, it's Dolan's remarkably astute and observational eye on how a relationship between two people can evolve, deteriorate, rebuild and implode over time, that makes "Laurence Anyways" relatable and universal. While Fred generously makes herself available to Laurence after his life-changing decision, she hardly knows what's in store. How could she? And while Laurence knows what gender he wants to be, he's yet to discover the person he will become as a result. These are two people, whose love for each other is undeniable, thrust into a situation that will irrevocably change them both. And with these adjustments will come situations they couldn't have prepared for, drama they could not have expected and a ten-year journey that tests their understanding of themselves and each other. And you gotta hand it to Dolan, he throws everything he can at the movie to transmit those feelings, and while not all of it works, when it does it's a deeply felt and honest accomplishment.
But for those familiar with Dolan's previous efforts, they know he swings wide and hard, but doesn't always connect. Dolan's aesthetic, generally speaking, is "more is more," though that sometimes works against his best efforts. "Laurence Anyways" features an extensive, eclectic soundtrack, mixing classical pieces, '90s hits and Quebecois pop, and you feel its presence. Particularly early on in the film, the music also serves as too heavy an emotional hammer for scenes that are already strong on their own. Visually, Dolan intriguingly opts for an Academy ratio this time out, but falls in love with wallpaper, fabric patterns, color motifs and numerous slo-mo montages to the point of distraction. It's clear he's a devotee of Pedro Almodovar, but has not yet mastered that fimmaker's ability for balance and restraint, with his stylistic choices at times overwhelming the emotional and dramatic content.
Yes, at two hours and forty minutes, "Laurence Anyways" is way too long (there is definitely one subset of characters that could be excised/reduced and the film would be better for it) and the filmmaking is very self-aware. However, Dolan has said recently that he was disappointed this third film at Cannes -- his second in the festival proper -- was still relegated to the Un Certain Regard sidebar. And we can understand why. "Laurence Anyways" contains a voice so pronounced, and so specific, that Dolan is going to be one to watch for years to come. And frankly, this film is more adventurous on numerous levels than some of the competition fare we've seen so far. But no matter. "Laurence Anyways" doesn't require the validation. Unwieldy and unkempt but both moving and dizzying to experience, "Laurence Anyways" is Dolan's grandest statement yet. [B]