Movie review: A long path to transgender life in ‘Laurence Anyways’

‘Laurence Anyways’
Suzanne Clément (on left) stars as Frédérique and Melvil Poupaud (on right) stars as Laurence in Xavier Dolan’s "Laurence Anyways.”

“Laurence Anyways” is, at heart, an intimate story of love and transformation of the physical and emotional kind. That its now-24-year-old writer-director, Xavier Dolan, a looming sensation in his native Canada, chose to explore this unique tale in such epic, operatic fashion works for and against the film — and the filmmaker. At nearly three hours, it’s by turns an extraordinary and exhausting work.

The story tracks the rocky, codependent relationship between Laurence (Melvil Poupaud), a handsome Montreal literature teacher finally ready, at 35, to live his life as a woman, and Frédérique, a.k.a. Fred (a riveting Suzanne Clément), an offbeat and fiery assistant director who, over the course of the movie’s 10-year setting — 1989 to 1999 — experiences her own conversion from Laurence’s giddy lover to wary supporter to wigged-out adversary to another man’s wife.

Laurence, meanwhile, navigates her evolving transgenderism, including settling on an appropriate “look” (Dolan, perhaps wisely, doesn’t make much of the physical-surgical specifics); deals with career ups and downs, copes with her remote mother (Nathalie Baye), finds a new live-in companion (Magalie Lépine Blondeau) and befriends a Fellini-esque performance troupe. En route, there’s a kind of growing, arm’s length quality to Laurence’s character that often limits our concern for her but also largely counters any knee-jerk “underdog” sympathy.

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Stylistically, Dolan packs the proceedings with an eclectic and experimental — and occasionally pretentious — audio-visual palette that helps keep things lively even when the film bogs down in narrative excess.

But what lingers most is the notion that even had Laurence remained a man, she and Fred might have still broken up, their similarities proving more fractious than their differences. It’s an intriguing, oddly satisfying conceit — if only it didn’t take so very long to get there.


“Laurence Anyways.”


Rating: No MPAA rating

Running time: 2 hours, 48 minutes. In French with English subtitles

Playing at: Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills; the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.