The dark Canadian anti-buddy comedy Lawrence & Holloman is an adaptation of an award winning stage play from Governor General award winner Morris Panych, and its origins show. Although it’s well shot and designed, there’s nothing particularly cinematic or immediate about what unfolds in director Matthew Kowalchuk’s overall work here. It’s likeable in spurts, but rarely does the material feel at all improved or reimagined by the move to the big screen.
Depressed and always down on his luck department store accounting clerk Holloman (Daniel Arnold, who also co-wrote with Kowalchuk) finds his life annoyingly changed via his interactions with a happy-go-lucky and constantly blessed doofus named Lawrence (Ben Cotton). They start hanging out, and Lawrence’s Dane Cook-meets-Deepak Chopra style antics come across as more bullying than endearing to his newly put upon buddy. However, it’s not long before Holloman’s luck starts to change for the better, while an unseen rogue has decided to make the still hopelessly optimistic Lawrence’s life a living hell.
The snappiness of Panych’s dialogue mostly survives the expansion intact, but something about this material doesn’t really lend itself well to a larger world where these main characters have to interact with others. The joy of the material should come from the constantly escalating game of one-upmanship and the knowledge that the only thing keeping Holloman from killing himself is the desire to break Lawrence as badly as life has broken him. There’s an interesting concept there, but even with a larger stage to work on, there’s a strain on the story that the film can never quite overcome.
For example, subplots involving Lawrence’s pissed off fiancé (Amy Matyiso) and a lesbian lingere clerk with sexy librarian glasses that Holloman is sweet on (really wonderfully played by Katherine Isabelle) don’t add much. There’s nothing to be gained from fleshing out these characters since everything mostly gets explained by way of exposition in the first place. They feel more like gambits to pad out the running time instead of anything that needs to be watched as it unfolds.
Then there’s the matter of the performances, which aside from Matyiso and Isabelle, feel like grand theatrical performance designed to please the people watching in a theatre from the cheap seats. Arnold has moments where he can tone things down and scale back his character’s over-the-top weariness, but he occasionally lapses into mugging for the camera and overextending himself. Cotton, on the other hand, mugs so much he might as well be filled with coffee with extra sugar. It’s like a 1980s Bobcat Golthwait performance, and while I understand that the character has to come across as an impish, irrepressibly idiotic blowhard for the drama at the heart of the conflict to work, it just underlines how much this material works better in a theatre than on the streets.
It’s not bad, and I guess the best that one can say is that those unfamiliar with the play will find enough new here to get some decent enjoyment out of it. There are a few hearty laughs along the way, mostly courtesy of Isabelle and Lawrence’s backhanded logic and constant butchering of the English language. It still only manages to be an okay time waster in this form instead of an entertaining night out at the theatre.