Starring Melvil Poupaud, Suzanne Clément. Written and directed by Xavier Dolan. 14A. 167 min. Opens Sept. 21 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
A child actor turned auteur who made his first feature at the age of 20 in 2009, Montreal’s Xavier Dolan led a charmed life in the film world until quite recently. Passed over for the Cannes competition slot many had expected, Laurence Anyways received a so-so reception at the festival, where, three years earlier, Dolan had been a darling on the rise.
Since the third feature by the now-23-year-old director stretches over nearly three hours, it’s easy to write it off as an overindulgent misfire by an upstart in need of comeuppance. Yet even though Laurence Anyways never justifies its girth, this flamboyant melodrama about a thirtysomething writer’s decision to restart his life as a woman—much to the chagrin of the girlfriend who still loves him/her—frequently impresses on the basis of its boldness and style. It’s also continually energized by Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clément’s performances as lovers who are initially exhilarated by Laurence’s transformation but daunted by the challenges it creates on both societal and personal levels.
The to-and-fro of their relationship over a 10-year period can be exhausting to witness, especially with Dolan’s haziness about details like the extent of Laurence’s transition. But the director’s tendency to showboat is actually more useful here than in his previous efforts. Rapturous sequences set to songs by Visage, Depeche Mode, and others are given additional flash by some outstandingly gaudy ’80s and ’90s fashion choices. Like the era it portrays, Laurence Anyways is at its most exciting when it dares to revel in its own excess.