Judge Bill Gibron found this film about gender identification and love challenged to be a real winner.
Who am I, and Why?
Decades ago, they were called horrible, hateful names. The few who broke out of the taboo-induced mold were given a surreal level of quasi-celebrity. The most noted—Christina Jorgenson and Dr. Rene Richards—pushed the level of discussion regarding alternative lifestyles and gender reassignment beyond the silly sex change moniker, though today they aren't remember so much as pioneers as they are pariahs who managed to overcome unreasonable social bigotry to lead relatively "normal" lives. Now, a lot of enlightenment later, we have labels like post-op and pre-op, transsexual (and the slang slight "Tranny"), and other PC placations. With that being said, the concept of someone altering their body because they psychologically (and physically, for that matter) identity with the opposite sex is not something to be feared, but to be explored and educated over. Enter Xavier Dolan's excellent Laurence Anyways. A bit overlong and a tad too trite for such an already sensationalized subject, this is still an excellent film that follows its lead, and those who love him/her, on a journey that's part self-examination and part societal litmus test.
Our title character is Laurence Alia (a fantastic Melvil Paupad, Speed Racer), a high school literature teacher. He shares his seemingly successful and happy life with his partner, Frederique, also known as "Fred" (Suzanne Clement, I Killed My Mother) and by all accounts, their existence is pretty good. That's all surface, however. Laurence has been living a lie, desperate to begin the process of changing from male to female. While we are never sure about the reasons behind this need, we watch as, over the course of time, Laurence fulfills his wish, if only superficially. He still maintains a relationship with Fred, but it grows strained. So do feelings from his family. But there are others that come and go as well, expected respondents including the occasional angry bar pick-up and the outraged moralist. There's also another woman, Charlotte (Magalie Lépine Blondeau, Heartbeats), who enters Laurence's world, presenting her own challenges. Over the time, the original couple separate and reunite, though the original spark is no longer there. In the end, we see Laurence supposedly happy, though this contentment hasn't come without a price.
Though he's earned a real auteur's reputation at a relatively young age, Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways proves that, sometimes, art can more effectively imitate life than a straight ahead dramatic reading. Washed in a weird combination of minor moments and outrageous cinematic symbolism, the third film from this proposed wunderkind offers up a delicacy and a defiance that few films can muster. It's as if Dolan didn't want to tell a straight forward story of sex reassignment, and instead, decided to delve into everything else that goes into such a decision. As a result, we get moments of melancholy, mean-spirited relationship stances, and perhaps most telling, the loss of original romantic fire. The transition Fred takes from ardent lover to disgruntled ex (and beyond) balances out the film's mannered finesse, turning what should have been a story of survival and struggle into one of personal problems and complexities. When Laurence announces his/her decision, Fred is hiding a secret. It's what will always separate "her" from "him."
This is about as far from something like Doris Wishman's exploitation epic Let Me Die a Woman as you can get, and yet there is something distant and distracted about how Dolan handles the material. You have to constantly divorce yourself from the fact that there will be little or no "movie of the week" explanations offered, that we aren't going to follow the "transition" beyond the basics (dressing like a woman, identifying with a woman, living as a woman, etc.). Granted, no one is in this for a last act trip to the surgical theater, but it would be nice to think that there is more of a cause prerogative than to watch a group of good looking people play gender politics. Still, if you can step outside that expectation and embrace the movie Dolan actually made, Laurence Anyways becomes a treat, a solid depiction of relationships in flux which doesn't require the same old "he said/she said" to offer up its complications. As it unspools, the motive is clear-how would you react if your life partner, your soul mate, suggested they change their sex? How would it affect you, and your perception of them? This is the movie's biggest coup, and it's only consideration.
Fans of the film and its Blu-ray release need to be aware of one thing—this is indeed a 1.33:1 aspect ratio offering that was, for theatrical purposes, expanded out to 1.85:1. Back to its former full screen glory, the HD offering here is excellent. Dolan has a great eye, and this 1080p presentation captures it with great color and detail. Skintones look good and there is a washed out feel to some of the sequence which suggest either brightening, or Dolan diddling in post-production. Either way, the image is excellent. As for the sound, we are given a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix that offers up the '80s inspired score and dialogue with equal levels of clarity. There is not much immersion here, but the overall effect is spatial and ambient. As for added content, we are treated to a near 80 minutes sit-down with Dolan. Through really a career overview, the information on Laurence Always is engaging and insightful. So are the near hour of deleted scenes. Yes, a movie that's 161 minutes in length can't possible benefit from the trimmed material, but in this case, we learn a lot from what was cut. Toss in a stills gallery and a trailer (and a bonus DVD version of the film) and you've got a great package for an equally impressive film.
Laurence Anyways is like a film about racism where no one utters the N-word or any other disparaging ethnic slur. It's like a crime drama where the actual felony is not important or only referenced to get to the real substance of the story. Those heavily invested in the various causes Dolan merely touches on will probably feel the filmmaker copped out. On the other hand, by avoiding the bulletin board boiler plate of the subject, he finds an equally compelling set of concepts to consider.
Not guilty. A true gem.
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Studio: Breaking Glass
• Deleted Scenes
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