Xavier Dolan’s latest is cluttered, uneven but well-intentioned film about repressed love
In his follow-up to a string of negatively received films (It Must Be The End of the World and The Death and Life of John F. Donovan), Xavier Dolan’s latest is a step-up from his previous two films but still doesn’t capture the emotional or narrative heights of his 2014 film Mommy.
The premise is simple: two childhood friends meet up at a summer house. Unexpectedly, they are asked to act in a one-minute short film in which they share a kiss. Reluctant at first, they accept the task. Soon after, their repressed love comes to the surface and haunts them.
Over the course of six weeks, the film follows both Matt and Max separately and in a few group gatherings. Max is travelling to Australia by the end of these six weeks looking for a better future. His relationship with his mother (Anne Dorval, the film’s best performance) is quite strained and his brother never bothers to ask about him. Matt, on the other hand, is more rooted in his life in Canada, having a successful career as a lawyer and a loving girlfriend. Both men are in love with each other but while Max knows it, Matt seeks to deny it.
Repression, pain, longing and love are main themes throughout the film – and while they are presented in poignant, sincere ways, the film’s narrative structure doesn’t put its ideas and themes into proper focus. Shifting from Max to Matt throughout the picture, Dolan seems unable to create a satisfying character arc that sends the film on a convincing pay off. While the characters’ agony could be felt, the film is cluttered with a lot of unnecessary scenes and encounters that do not amount to much. Dolan shows us how different Matt and Max’s lives are, and asks questions about belonging, upbringing, love and friendship – but doesn’t address them fully to come up with a well-rounded result. However, there are stand out scenes that do get some of this across – particularly (or perhaps ironically), the scenes that do not feature both characters but rather focus on the relationship between Max and his mother. Reminiscent of the mother-son strain in Mommy, Max’s upbringing defines who he is and who he wants to avoid being. These scenes work because they are sharply focused and not cluttered or obstructed by needless dialogue or extra close-ups that don’t heighten the viewer experience.
Dolan’s signature style of incorporating music, sound and close-up shots are all there – and it sometimes works but more often it doesn’t. Unlike Mommy, the conversations and character dynamic feel undeveloped, too familiar or unnecessary, especially for the character of Matt (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) who is somewhat frustrating in the narrative because rather than contribute to the emotional resonance of the film, the character sometimes blocks viewers from the empathy that Dolan was after.
Sincere but unfocused, Dolan’s latest is better than his previous two films but still leaves viewers wishing for more. It is partly engaging and partly scattered narratively – a collision of Dolan’s signature style and what characters like these deserved in terms of approach.