Canadian indie flick Lawrence & Holloman is a black comedy about a suicidal accounting clerk and the cheerful salesman who makes it his mission to cheer him up. The blackness of its comedy clicks because of fine performances from Daniel Arnold (who also co-wrote) and Ben Cotton and a really twisted script.
Everything about Lawrence & Holloman is bigger (or in Holloman’s case, smaller) than life-sized. Holloman (Arnold, Lies Between Friends) is Walter Mitty – if Mitty was a chronically depressed guy in a dead end job who was seriously considering suicide as a life choice – and Lawrence (Cotton, The Killing) is the upbeat guy for whom things always seem to work out.
The two meet in an elevator shortly after Holloman has packed a loaded pistol in his briefcase and Lawrence has learned he’s been named salesman of the month for the second straight month at the nameless department store where they both work.
Holloman has just had his loaded briefcase knocked open and frantically replaced everything before someone else gets on the elevator, and dropped some change in the process. Lawrence gets in the elevator talking to his lovely fiancée, Jill (Amy Matysio), about how well things are going, notices a penny on the floor and picks it up.
Lawrence is the guy who flirts with the girl in lingerie (Katherine Isabelle), playfully mocks shoots the security guard and generally just seems to have everything going for him – despite actually not being particularly good looking, or intelligent. Pretty much the opposite of Holloman – who is, behind his glasses and awful haircut – pretty good looking and very intelligent.
In what can only be described as an unfortunate set of circumstances, Lawrence decides to take Holloman under his wing and help him become a happy camper. He freely offers malaprop-filled advice (‘don’t emphasize with losers’) and even tries to set Holloman up with lingerie counter girl, Zooey (Katherine Isabelle, Hannibal, Being Human) – whom Holloman is certain is a lesbian.
As Holloman seems to be learning from Lawrence and trying to expand his horizons, Lawrence’s luck begins to turn sour. Everything starts going wrong for him – from customer complaints at work, to Jill apparently finding out he had an affair, to much, much worse. Still, he maintains his happy-go-lucky attitude – causing Holloman increasing frustration.
Based on an award-winning play by Morris Panych, Lawrence & Holloman mines extremes within the mundane. Just as Lawrence is bigger, luckier and happier than anyone should be, Hollowman is smaller, more broken and depressed than anyone should be. Where Lawrence has a gorgeous fiancée, Holloman has a bed-ridden, alcoholic mother; where Lawrence is popular and accomplished, Holloman is a morose island unto himself, stuck in a job that he despises.
Director and co-writer Matthew Kowalchuk plays with audience expectations in ways both subtle and broad: Holloman’s suicide note is addressed to ‘whomsoever might care’; when confronted By Jill, Lawrence seems to both shrink under the unvoiced accusation and lurch into serious overcompensation.
When the movie focuses on Holloman, the palette seems more restrained – on Lawrence, it’s more vibrant. Where Holloman has next to no personality, the force of Lawrence’s personality more than makes up for his lack of intelligence (he kinda puts the offensive into ‘charm offensive’) – Holloman’s consideration of suicide seems like a reasoned response to his circumstances; Lawrence’s joyousness seems to fly in the face of all understanding.
The fun of Lawrence & Holloman is watching the way the two change (or don’t) as their fortunes shift in the opposite directions. As Holloman’s life seem to start coming together, he does, by slight increments, become more confident – even when his play for Zooey goes as he might have predicted; Lawrence, despite everything – and we are talking EVERYTHING, continues to be as brash, cheerful and upbeat as ever. The irony of the final scenes is almost too delicious for words.
Although there are no plans for U.S. distribution at the moment, Lawrence & Holloman is a film to watch for when it does make its move to the States.
Final Grade: A-