Lawrence & Holloman is the story of suicidal pessimist Holloman (Daniel Arnold), and eternal optimist Lawrence (Ben Cotton). After a chance meeting in the elevator of the store where they work, Lawrence decides that Holloman needs help being more optimistic, and is soon helping Holloman try to be a more positive guy, whether Holloman wants the help or not. When Lawrence begins suffering some terrible accidents, his optimism is tested, and he’s only got Holloman to turn to. Based on a very darkly comedic play by Morris Panych, c0-writer and director Matthew Kowalchuk, along with co-writer and star Daniel Arnold, took some time to speak to Toronto Film Scene about the challenges of adapting a play, the deeper meaning behind the film, and why Canadians may be more accepting of such dark comedy.
Not only is Lawrence & Holloman an hilarious film, but it manages to adapt a play in a way that creates a much more open world. In order to go from Morris Panych’s play, to the final film product, numerous additions had to be made. Director Matthew Kowalchuk explains how the play needed to be expanded on, and some of the scenes that they needed to create. “The play is in twelve long scenes, and in between these, there’s a scene that we don’t get to see. So at the beginning of each scene, you see Lawrence with a head bandage, or missing a leg, or something unexplained. We don’t know the reason at the beginning of the scene, but we couldn’t do that. That was the first big thing we couldn’t do. I mean, we could, but it was the first big thing we decided to change. We wanted to show those things.”
Matthew continued speaking about creating new characters for the film that weren’t in the play, and how it all helped make the film feel more like their own creation. “We feel we really honored Morris’ work, his writing, and his original source, and yet we’ve crafted our own version. Each time we take a step into a scene that didn’t exist, or creating a character that didn’t exist, it would just naturally feel a little bit more ours. We wanted to do a movie with visuals, and still maintain the essence of what was already created, this unique story and these two friends who just somehow, through thick and thin, through everything, somehow still have a need for each other.”
It seems to be a bit of a stretch to call Lawrence and Holloman friends, especially as we see the events that transpire between them, and as an audience, this affects how we view the characters. They are extreme examples of optimism and pessimism, and viewers will find themselves spending some time liking a character, and at other moments, disliking them. Writer and star Daniel Arnold spoke a little about getting the right balance between loving and hating each character. “We had lots of conversations about the characters, about when do we need to be on board with Holloman and sympathetic towards him, and when can we kind of let him go, and say that he’s too crazy for me. With Lawrence, we needed to like him and not really want to see him go down, but then there were times that he needed to be mean. So that balance between the shifting back and forth between whether you like someone or whether you feel for them or not, we had lots of conversations about that. It was very important that one character not become too unlikeable ever.”
There’s definitely plenty of reasons to like, and hate, each character, and things begin to get very dark. It’s all done in an incredibly funny way, and it began to seem like this was something that was an almost uniquely Canadian perspective. There’s a feeling of Kids in the Hall throughout the film, with a little touch of Monty Python as well, and you get the impression that this is a film that works best in Canada, since Canadians have a way of being able to laugh at things that others may find too dark. “I think growing up with things like Kids in the Hall, even SCTV, in a way it subconsciously gives us permission to create that kind of comedy.” explained Matthew, who continued “I don’t think it’s anything that we were deliberately aiming for, but it’s our influences.” Daniel also points out the importance that Marris Panych plays in the comedy of the film. “Also, Morris Panych, is a highly prolific writer, and a star of the Canadian theatre scene, and a lot of his humour is very dark and nihilistic. I think a lot of Canadians like that, but also Matt and I really like it too. A lot of it comes from Morris’ mind, who created this in the beginning, so we owe a lot of kudos to him obviously.”
This is certainly a darkly comedic movie, but there’s also a feeling of a much deeper theme at work, causing viewers to look at themselves and their own lives. It’s an important aspect that Matthew expanded on. “If you don’t have a point as a storyteller, then why did you do that, so I think it’s important to have your own point, but then there are different levels of it, and I love that the audience can enjoy it on different levels. I’m happy if somebody enjoys it on the surface level and has plenty of laughs, and I’m happy if somebody recognized themselves in it. We’ve heard people say it’s changed their perspective on life, and it certainly impacted people who were working on it. We had what we wanted you to feel, but if somebody feels differently, I’m okay with it.”