|Suzanne Clément in Laurence Anyways|
Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures
2013, 168 minutes
Review by Joshua Handler
Extraordinary. Simply extraordinary. Laurence Anyways is the third feature film by 24-year-old Xavier Dolan and it is as unique as they come. The film begins with the story of Fred (Suzanne Clément) and Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), a couple in love. However, one day, Laurence tells Fred that he would like to become a woman. The rest of the film shows how Fred deals with this change and follows Fred and Laurence's lives with and without each other over the next ten years.
I cannot praise Suzanne Clément's performance enough. As the fragile Fred, Clément captures a wide range of emotions, frequently performing scenes that require huge bursts of emotion that never feel overacted. These outbursts of emotion have hints of subtlety too, as they are all tinged with sadness and love, not just anger. Everything Clément shows is from the heart. She plays a woman torn apart by the love of her life. Laurence's decision to be a woman changes everything for her. All of the carefree happiness and love that she and Laurence shared vanishes. The film is set primarily in the 1990s, a time when transsexuals were not widely accepted in society, making it especially hard for Laurence and Fred to go on living as they were. Clément steals every scene that she's in and is literally a force of nature. It is rare to find an actress with as much power as Clément. Her work in some of the film's quieter, more intimate scenes is just as powerful as her work in her more openly emotional scenes. She gives Fred dimension and character, which made me love and care for her throughout the course of the film.
Beside Clément is Melvil Poupaud as Laurence. His performance is much quieter than Clément's, but is really fantastic. Poupaud is charming as Laurence. He plays a man not accepted for being who he is. Poupaud shows inner conflict entirely on his face. Laurence is a man who knows that he needs to be a woman. No one, even his own family, accepts him. Fred is the only person in the world who accepts him for who he is. Poupaud is the perfect counterbalance to Clément and their scenes together are electrifying, as their natural chemistry is very believable.
At 168 minutes, this movie could easily have been a ramble, but Xavier Dolan keeps tight control over it. It is huge, expansive, but extremely intimate. Dolan directs with style. He is absolutely in love with himself, but this over-the-top style fits the grand emotions perfectly, and Dolan knows when to pull back on the extravagance to illicit the perfect emotional response from the audience. Each shot is masterfully framed (the film was shot with a 1:33:1 aspect ration, aka full frame), and the soundtrack adds energy and feeling to the film.
I am truly astonished that this movie was as evenly-paced as it was. A decade-long love story could easily have taken on multiple subplots that would have distracted and possibly derailed the story's focus, yet by keeping the focus exclusively on Fred and Laurence, Dolan keeps the movie even. Also, because Fred and Laurence are such realistic and interesting characters and Poupaud and Clément's performances are so convincing, I never minded spending the evening with them.
Overall, Laurence Anyways is a film to run to go see when it hits your local movie theater. It opened in many cities this past Friday and will expand in the next few weeks. It is an impressive piece of work that is rewarding to sit through. Even though it is self-indulgent, it is this self-indulgence that adds to the character of the film and livens it up. It is the same kind of self-indulgence that made Bob Fosse's All That Jazz thrill. It knows it's good, but it actually is as good as it thinks it is, making the self-indulgence justified and making it add to the feel of the film.