Laurence Anyways

As befits a proper love story, this romantic epic from 24-year-old Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan pours forth in an irresolute, undisciplined torrent. It takes energy, and audacity, for a movie to be all over the place without seeming to get anywhere; life sometimes is like that too. Their relationship presented early on with a slightly strenuous Sid-and-Nancy vibe, it’s obvious that novelist Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and novelist’s-girlfriend Frédérique (Suzanne Clément) are soulmates. Together they keep a running list of “things that subtly minimize our pleasure,” which includes early-morning jackhammers, parents who paint their kids’ rooms in pastels, and closed-minded attitudes about gender transitions. This last becomes a problem when Laurence figures out that he’d rather be a woman. So how does soulmatedom encourage or impede self-actualization? That’s a good cinematic question, gamely taken up by Dolan with the understanding that answers should feel earned, not easy. The story spans a decade and the movie spans nearly three hours. Slow deliberation is important, but not all the time is well spent: Some scenes fall like little maudlin bathos bombs; others play out with exquisite emotional honesty. Certainly it is wholeheartedly acted, even if Clément’s frequent histrionics start seeming collectively like an audition reel. The downside of Dolan’s arty affect and indulgent sprawl is most apparent when his otherwise understandably wavering narrative line unspools and the film mires in a pastiche of videos for the late-’80s pop songs saturating its soundtrack. But it gets beyond that, and beyond being merely another issue movie, by having a soul.