Xavier Dolan’s career may have began with a rush of praise, but it seems that after a certain point, everyone just grew tired of him all at once. It’s Only the End of the World wasn’t meaningfully different from any film that he had made before, but the reviews were so much harsher. That film preceded — predicted, almost willed into existence — Dolan’s true fall with The Death & Life of John F. Donovan, a total failure by all accounts that was recut so heavily to the extent that Jessica Chastain, originally announced as one of the film’s leads, didn’t even feature in the final cut. Despite all the footage that Dolan shot for that project, he still couldn’t shape the film into something compelling — and nothing on the evidence of what was presented suggests there was much of a shape to find. Matthias & Maxime, then, was a natural a retreat from disaster, Dolan doing something more in his wheelhouse, presumably to regroup. But it doesn’t seem like he’s interested in building on that now. In a recent interview, Dolan said he doesn’t really “want to do this job anymore” — and in his new five-episode series, The Night Logan Woke Up, you can tell.
This is a particularly mediocre example of the mediocre prestige television genre. Each episode follows the same structure: something vaguely exciting will happen at the beginning and the end — or at least the music tells us it’s supposed to be exciting — and what’s in between is mostly stalling. If a TV series’ extended length is supposed to give room to develop character more than the filmic medium would allow, then that’s seldom how all that time has effectively been used here. And without much plot to plug the holes, Logan becomes explicitly character-centric, making the blatant time-wasting even more obvious. Following each member of the Larouche family, there is no sense that these threads go anywhere; even the anchor of the dying matriarch (Anne Dorval) doesn’t give much sense of connection and convergence, and each episode seems to drift by aimlessly. Dolan even recognizes this, seemingly, so he gets the character that he plays to define all the specific relationships in a classic therapy-as-exposition scene, which, as per usual, sacrifices character, drama, and tension for the sake of convenience.
No one could accuse Dolan’s previous work of a lack of drive and energy, but considering that he’s credited as writer, director, producer, and editor on The Night Logan Woke Up, the series is shockingly anonymous. It’s stylish only to the extent that any hack television director could handle, and so the music by Hans Zimmer and David Fleming is needed to push the coverage into any kind of shape, which it does with a fitting apathy: each cue contains only the generic musical signifiers of whatever emotion it’s supposed to convey. All this could make even Dolan’s biggest haters wish for one of his stylized, somewhat formally contrived setpieces — probably set to slightly off-kilter pop, with a character pulling the screen until it transforms into a different aspect ratio. Without that flare and youthful exuberance, all that’s left is the emptiness always at the core of Dolan’s films.
There’s something suggestive of growth here, some development on ideas, in casting Dorval as the Mother. Dolan’s relationship with his own mother has been a defining characteristic of his work, and Dorval has played that surrogate since his very first film, the semi-autobiographical I Killed My Mother. And now she’s dying — dead, in fact, by the end of the first episode. Maybe time has worn on Dolan in more ways than just his fatigue; maybe there’s a newfound awareness that all the shouting has come to nothing. All those conflicts will never be resolved, there’s only so much time left, etc.. But from the two episodes of Logan that screened at Sundance, this doesn’t seem to be the case, and it’s hardly even gestured towards, despite how obviously fertile that ground would be. Instead — and in what scans as an obvious, tired, and lazy way — Dolan just seems to be trying to wrap up his career by killing Mother off once and for all.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 4.