30-year-old Xavier Dolan, returns to his native Quebec for “Matthias & Maxime.”
Dolan has been a polarizing figure for many cinephiles these last few years. After surprising the film world, in his mid-20s to boot, with well-received fare such as “Laurence Anyways,” “Mommy,” and "Tom at the Farm," the way he has concocted his movies ever since has been polarizing at best for critics and audiences. It all started with 2016's "It's Only the End of the World," a film that won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes but not without being dubbed one of the worst movies to ever be awarded at the festival. Sure, many French audiences and critics dug it, but the overall consensus stateside was not pleasant. To make things worse, Dolan was about to embark on his first English-language film "The Death and Life of John F. Donovan," which turned out to be a disasterpiece of the highest-order. What do you make exactly of a movie that completely wiped clean a Jessica Chastain performance from its final cut? The film never got released in France, a country that adores Dolan’s cinema, nor in his native Canada.
His latest is about childhood best friends Matthias & Maxime (played by Dolan and Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) as they try to wrestle the feelings they have for each other. It doesn’t help that the two meet up with four of their closest friends (played by Pier-Luc Funk, Samuel Gauthier, Antoine Pilon and Adib Alkhalidey) at a cottage house for a weekend of smoking pot, and that Erika (Camille Felton), the younger sister of one of the friends, casts them both as the romantic leads in a desperate last-minute casting call for a short she needs to shoot on-the-spot. The two straight friends have a kissing scene (although the camera doesn’t show it because Dolan wants to build “tension” for the rest of the movie), and it makes for the most awkward phase these two friends will have in their friendship’s timeline.
On a side note, the girl playing Erika (Camille Felton) is the biggest delight of the film, constantly switching back and forth between French with American slang and social media catchphrases. She’s an absolute hoot to behold.
The problem with a film like “Matthias & Maxime” is that Dolan wants his movie to build on the sexual tension between his two leads, but he barely scratches the surface of that tension in doing so. We don’t know enough about these two men to fully be invested in the stakes the film aims to put on the table. The decision to show restraint on the part of Dolan, an unusual thing for the director, is valid enough, but it ends up with the director shooting himself in the foot in the process. There is no vividness to their friendship either; we are told that they have known each other since they were kids, but there never is that believability on display. Rather, it feels amateurish, as if Dolan decided to make a home movie instead of a well thought-out cinematic endeavor. The result is something that is never involving.
After the aforementioned party, Dolan decides to separate his characters for most of the rest of the runtime, a dubious decision, by showing them living their own lonely lives. Dolan’s Max takes care of his mentally draining mother (Anne Dorval) even though he is in full-on prep mode, with less than a few weeks to go, for his departure from Montreal to study abroad in Australia.
Meanwhile Matt (D’Almeida Freitas) is the more successful of the gang, a corporate lawyer following in the footsteps of daddy, who, no surprise, feels empty and unsatisfied by his work. After the awkward night he and Max shared shooting the short film, Matt has decided to distance himself from the bro-ish friendship circle, telling his girlfriend that he’s too mature to hang out with them now. It all culminates in a climactic farewell party for Max which is obviously meant to settle these inner issues between Max and Matt once and for all.
Dolan has decided to try and make his most mature film to date with “Matthias & Maxime,” by tackling adulthood and responsibilities, and ditching the usual, overtly stylized filmmaking that made him a household name in the first place. Instead of being the extravagant Dolan vehicle we expect, this is a meditative, but comatose approach from the 30-year-old director. A far more quiet and distanced work from his previous outings, its an attempt to mature and move forward as an artist, but the movie proves he’s just not ready for that kind of statement. [D]