The Out Take is a biweekly column about LGBT cinema. It runs on alternating Thursdays (but, in this case, on a Friday).
“Laurence Anyways” is going to make $100 million by Monday. I swear this to you on my honor as a film critic.*
Xavier Dolan’s third feature has all of the elements necessary for a huge box office smash, in the middle of the summer, on the 4th of July long weekend. It may very well be the most effectively made blockbuster in years, and it’s certainly the most entertaining. It’s epic, perfectly paced to suck in the audience, and capitalizes on the recent craze for superhero movies that give you big feelings. “Man of Steel” is all about trying to fit in, right?
It’s all about Frédérique and Laurence, a young couple of creative types in early 1990s Montreal. Laurence is an English teacher, Fred an assistant director. Early on in the film, Laurence experiences a long-brewing but cinematically-compact awakening as a woman. In a stunning carwash-set sequence, Laurence tells this to Fred, who reacts with initial shock. Later she decides that the two should stay together and give it a go. Laurence will not go through her transition alone. Yet, as is often the case in a love story with such immediate passion, things go south. “Laurence Anyways” is a chronicle of a nine year, on-again-off-again relationship, one of the best in recent memory.
Still don’t believe me? It’s ok, I understand. Epic romances don’t sell these days, it’s true. It’s been a while since “Dr. Zhivago,” “Gone with the Wind” and the like. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” only opened to $26 million. Yet “Laurence Anyways” has more up its sleeve than Brad Pitt, and certainly more going for it than “World War Z.”
Every summer blockbuster needs at least a few scenes of thrilling, explosive, jaw-dropping action. Sequences of buildings smashed to bits, fluorescent alien invasions and throngs of horrified bystanders at great risk. The best of them are completely devoid of music, at least temporarily, with a brutal focus on the sounds of destruction and adrenaline. Admittedly, “Laurence Anyways” doesn’t traffic in the most expensive of these special effects – blame the Canadian film industry. However, there are a whole slew of whirlwind sequences that have much the same effect. Here’s one of the best, in which Fred verbally assaults a waitress during Saturday Brunch. It’s a riveting, nail-biting experience. To quote on YouTube commenter: “F**king EPIC!”
It’s So Long!
Ok, so maybe you don’t like long movies. But if you’re the type that tends to buy tickets to enormous blockbusters, especially the ones with building-smashing, you probably do. All five films at the top of the domestic box office for 2013 so far are over two hours. Last year was the same. “The Dark Knight Rises” runs at 165 minutes. The more successful films in the last Oscar race were also lengthy, expansive endeavors. Honestly, it feels like they just don’t make movies under 140 minutes anymore. At 161 minutes, “Laurence Anyways” should knock your socks off.
It’s Got Subtitles, but Not All the Time!
Americans don’t love subtitles, this is true. However, some of “Laurence Anyway” is in English. It’s Canada, after all. In Montreal the two languages tend to run together in casual conversation. The result is a film that, while mostly in French, has enough English to keep you on your toes. Remember how much everybody loved “Inglourious Basterds”? It was in a whole bunch of languages, which somehow translated as “hip” rather than “foreign.” There are characters that switch back and forth, without warning! Did you like Hans Landa? You’ll love The Five Roses, an adorable group of mostly aging old drag queens with a total disregard for conventional anything.
As I’ve said, there’s plenty of edge-of-your seat brutal action in the movie, some of it played as straight as, well, Thor. Alongside these gripping bare sequences, however, runs Dolan’s lush and extravagant sense of style. “Laurence Anyways” is as shiny and colorful as any of the multitudinous extra-terrestrials that proliferate the Marvel universe, with twice the glamour. Finally tapping into the potential of his penchant for slow motion, this couture-obsessed Canadian wunderkind delivers scene after scene that plays with gushing beauty and liberating excess. The central example is probably Fred’s entrance to the Cinébal, floating through the air with the help of a fabulous cape and a headwind of confidence.
It’s not a blockbuster if there isn’t a whole lot of elaborately butched-up spandex realness. Laurence’s Salvation Army style may not quite match up with Fred’s often breathtaking ensembles, but each wardrobe is absolutely essential to the construction of character. When Laurence enters her classroom dressed as a woman for the first time, with a green power suit for armor and a single dangly earring for flare, the effect is not unlike that of a particularly potent set of superhero duds. It’s a bit like “Green Lantern,” but with charisma. America loves a good costume change.
Remember the ‘90s? Do you? Dolan’s films always have unique rhythm, but “Laurence Anyways” may very well be on a whole new level of sonic achievement. This ‘90s-set film rocks both its own decade and some of the best pop songs of the ‘80s, using them to build BIG movie moments. Duran Duran, Kim Carnes, Depeche Mode, and Jean Leloup join contemporary musicians like Fever Ray and Moderat on the best soundtrack of the year.
* “Laurence Anyways.” Isn’t going to make millions of dollars this weekend. It’s a small, foreign, movie about queer people that runs over two and a half hours. But wouldn’t you like to spend a few hours in a world where that could happen? It’s also the best movie of the year, and you should do everything you can to see it. Emigrate to Canada, if you have to. They make great movies, and poutine is delicious.