A selection of the opening lines of Laurence Anyways reads like this:
“What are you looking for, Laurence Alia?
I’m looking for a person who understands my language and speaks it. A person who, without being a pariah, will question not only the rights and the value of the marginalized, but also those of the people who claim to be normal.”
Dolan’s ambitious third feature stumbles, like its main character, through Laurence's transformation from man to woman. It’s messy and overlong but much more brave and worthwhile than most films you’ll see this year.
In French Canada during the late 1980s, Laurence and Frederique (Fred) fall for one another. However after a period of dating, Laurence tells her that he wants to become woman. Their decade long struggle ensues.
When Laurence tells her of his ambivalence towards his gender, she says, “Everything I love about you, you hate.” They are each faced with the deep pain of this predicament. He, after being vulnerable about his identity, is rejected by the woman he loves. She is humiliated by his violation of her vulnerable love for him. It’s easier to sympathize with Laurence, but it should be noted that Fred is being told by the person she loves, that he does not love that part of himself that she is deeply attached to. I feel both of their immense pain.
I could never tell exactly what Fred is thinking. She either loves Laurence, male or female, and isn’t brave enough to face society's rejection of him, or she doesn’t love Laurence but can’t face herself for rejecting him based on his new gender preference.
Early on, Fred tells her sister: “Our generation can take this. We’re ready for it”
Later in the film, we discover how unready she was. She flips out and screams at the waitress in a crowded restaurant, upset by the waitress’ prying questions about Laurence. Afterwards, she says to Laurence while running away from him, “Between you and me, who really needs to be fixed?” The answer to this question is clear, despite Fred’s assertion. Laurence knows her own identity, but Fred is lost.
Laurence Anyways won Best Actress in the Un Certain Regard competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, as well as Best Canadian Feature at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Aspects of it will frustrate you, like the overwhelming length and prevalence of artsy shots that sometimes feel forced. That may matter to you during the film and right after, but not next week. Next week you’ll remember the humanity, the struggle we all face between the aspects of us that make us normal and those that push us into the margins, and that’s what really matters.