Xavier Dolan is back!
I mean, he never really left but after the horrific reception of last year’s star-studded The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (which finally opened on Toronto screens only a month and a half ago), it feels like he’s needed to come back, right?
So here we have it – his new, new movie, Matthias & Maxime, which premiered earlier this year at Cannes to little fanfare. And while it may not change the world or anything, it does represent a return to the low-key millennial ennui that he initially made his name on. He also steps back in front of the camera in one of his own movies for the first time since 2013’s Tom at the Farm.
Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) and Maxime (Dolan) have been good friends since high school but clearly there has always been a stronger love between them, no matter how much they insist otherwise. Matthias, in particular, is in the deepest denial, forcing himself into a straight-and-narrow lifestyle as a lawyer while in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend. Over the course of several weeks and multiple hangouts with their group of 20-something friends, these two slowly and coyly start to reconcile their feelings about one another, just before Maxime is due to leave town for Australia.
Dolan’s latest feels closest to his sophomore feature, Heartbeats, in its depiction of the social lives of a group of hipster Montreal millennials but all his usual storytelling themes are still readily apparent (including yet another viciously fraught mother-son relationship – is this guy ever going to get over his mommy issues?) For the first time, however, he’s dialed down his stylistic quirks considerably, opting for a more grounded and naturalistic vibe as if he’s making his own Eric Rohmer film. It doesn’t even have a single recontextualization of a massive pop song (well, maybe one)!
Honestly, these barbs are all in good jest as I’ve been a tried-and-true Dolan fan since day one, and Matthias & Maxime is a film that, for the most part, plays to his strengths. I’ve always liked his presence as an actor as well and, besides the odd choice to play the entire role sporting a massive facial birthmark, he is as unforced and charismatic as ever.
At the same time, this really is a lightweight affair, lacking the emotional crescendos of his best films. In the end, the relationship between the two central characters just isn’t quite fleshed out enough to make any kind of lasting impression, especially since one of them is such a dick for the entire runtime until he finally shows some kindness at the eleventh hour. As usual, the final shot is played for maximum feels but this time, I’m not really buying it.
But for better or worse, Matthias & Maxime seems like a film Dolan had to make to come back down to Earth. Now he can move on to greater things.