Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways (2012) is a true romance. There is so much meaty heart to this story that you rollick in the grip of it — the emotional stress of the characters, their faults and virtues.
Perhaps antithetically, the defining feature that sets the browser’s sights on Laurence Anyways is the journey of Laurence, into her own identity (Namely, coming to realize she is a woman, and changing her body and life to match that.) Gender transitions are a topic that is rarely delivered justice, but Dolan tackles this in the most intelligent way possible. This is not a story about Laurence, so much. Instead of making the spine of the narrative Laurence’s transition, instead, the lifeblood and pulse and motion of the film is Laurence’s relationship with long-term partner, Frederick. In watching it, the film is revealed to be equally about her journey. So, those that have selected the film for a sweeping exploration of the inner turmoil of Laurence are in for a double-whammy, delivered in full glitter-and-pop Dolan style.
Whereas another film may have chosen to summit the narrative when Laurence admits to her predilection, and focus on Frederick’s eventual climb towards acceptance, Dolan clears these waters immediately. No question, the meeting of ‘souls’ between Fred and Laurence overcomes the physical and social walls built by Laurence’s transition — they will try to stay together. We do not explore Laurence’s inner state (that, already, is decided. She knows who she is.) Instead we are carried on the tide of Frederick’s and Laurence’s overriding love, and the eventual social, emotional and physical pressures that weigh down upon them. Suzanne Clément’s performance is what makes (for this reviewer) this film so captivatingly about her — Fred as a reflection of society, and on the complexity (and construction of) gender.
Twisting towards a bittersweet conclusion, Dolan frames Fred and Laurence’s impermanent relationship. Their journey is steeped with adversity, tension, but also with a richness in beginning, middle and end, a head-on portrayal of characters being open, communicating, and still not being able to overcome their difficulties. If only all romance films could be so honestly, blatantly wholesome? Realism is not the superficial quality of Dolan’s films (his youth and vibrancy make his films feel like a HD 80s music video, jackets and all — perhaps excepting Tom at the Farm ). However, Dolan’s writing is foundationally built on dialogue and characters and choices that are reflective of a normal, pressured human existence. Dolan’s predilection for Dickensian, grotesque chorus characters juxtapose with Frederick and Laurence’s nuance, throwing them into sharper relief, closer to the viewer. We are carried alongside them, and cannot condemn the priorities they each must weigh in deciding what integrities to maintain in their lives, and what to give up.
This film has so much warmth, and the circuitous conclusion reminds of the beautiful whole of the film — a story not solely about hardships, and the faults of our humanity, but instead a celebration of the ever-changing and transience of L-O-V-E, the Big Kahuna, the wave that surges, then fades.