Opposites Attract?

Lawrence & Holloman
(Canada, 89 min.)
Dir. Matthew Kowalchuk, Writ. Daniel Arnold, Matthew Kowalchuk
Starring: Ben Cotton, Daniel Arnold, Katherine Isabelle, Amy Matysio, Christine Willes.
They say opposites attract. One couldn’t find a bigger pair of opposites than in Lawrence and Holloman, the frenemies of the anti-buddy comedy that bears their names. Lawrence and Holloman are polar opposites in just about every way. There’s no attraction between the two, though. They’re more like magnets in reverse: the tension becomes stronger the closer they come together.

The film opens on Holloman even though he gets second billing in the title. Holloman, played by co-writer Daniel Arnold, is one of those guys who always come second. He’s a dip, a dweeb, a dunce, etc. Holloman, a smart, quiet, and self-pitying credit collector, fails to garner any notice from his colleagues in the Vancouver department store in which he works. He fantasizes about blowing his brains out in the parking lot, but even he knows that nobody will notice and that the only mourner at his funeral will be the unfortunate tow-truck driver who hauls his corpse out of the garage after the management has plastered Holloman’s smelly car with parking tickets.

Then Holloman meets Lawrence.

Lawrence, played by Ben Cotton (Cinemanovels), makes up for the confidence Holloman lacks. He’s a cocky, arrogant boor. When the two first meet, Lawrence towers over Holloman, blathering into his Bluetooth like a d-bag while Holloman cowers invisibly in the back of the car. They later strike up a quasi-friendship, though, over drinks at a bar. Holloman detests Lawrence and Lawrence sees Holloman more as a pet than as a friend, but it works. Sort of, or not really… not really at all.

The darkly funny Lawrence & Holloman turns the buddy-comedy inside-out as Holloman cultivates a relationship with Lawrence mostly to tear him down. It starts as a Henry Higgins/Eliza Doolittle affair as Lawrence gives Holloman tips on the ins and outs of manliness. At first, though, Lawrence & Holloman puts the audience firmly on Holloman’s side—he’s a sympathetic dork and his pitiable loneliness makes him kind of endearing, especially since Arnold plays Holloman out to be a familiarly relatable introvert. The film, on the other hand, sets up Lawrence to play the fool. He’s an idiot, pure and simple, who puts on airs with words he doesn’t understand and he treats life as one non-stop party. Cotton’s a hoot playing Lawrence’s brash oafishness to the hilt, and Lawrence & Holloman couldn’t present the audience with a better set of foils.

Then Lawrence & Holloman turns the tables on the pair and puts the likable Holloman on a tailspin. Holloman’s bizarre episodes become increasingly detached from reality as he fantasizes about getting ahead in life by creating misery for Lawrence. Director Matthew Kowalchuk devises some hilarious scenarios —twistedly so—in which Holloman puts Lawrence through hell simply to feel good. The odd interludes blur the line between fantasy and reality—this is one aspect where the smart simplicity of the production works to the film’s advantage—and one has to do a double take to see if Holloman has really gone off into the deep end of Crazyland.

The strong characterization of Lawrence & Holloman makes the two leads equally likable and detestable. The film uses the flaws of the pair to twist and turn the audience’s allegiance and sympathy with either character, for Holloman drowns himself by fixating on his inadequacies while Lawrence’s incessant jolliness ultimately redeems him. The more Holloman becomes the evil agent between the two, the more Lawrence looks on the bright side of the hard knocks Holloman throws at him. Lawrence harbors no ill will, he’s simply too dim to really understand the consequences of his actions, while the smart and sensitive Holloman becomes the monster he aims to destroy. Arnold and Cotton make the pair pleasantly compelling, for one can relate to Holloman’s crippling insecurity or to Lawrence’s loud attempt to feel successful by appearing successful. Katherine Isabelle also pops up in a fun performance as Lawrence and Holloman’s ambiguously gay colleague, who brings out the wild side in everyone, especially Holloman in the film’s turning point in one outrageously silly attempt at mimicking Lawrence’s art for picking up.

Lawrence & Holloman pitches itself as the “feel bad comedy of the year,” but this offbeat comedy is oddly charming thanks to the finely sketched characters and tangible yin and yang of Arnold and Cotton’s performances. The film’s head-to-head match between an eternal pessimist and an eternal optimist makes for a fine black comedy. The film’s play on the characters asks the audience to redefine its perception of success, and Lawrence & Holloman’s one-two punch ultimately has the viewers laughing at themselves.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Lawrence & Holloman opens in Toronto at The Royal on August 29.