Matthias & Maxime ★★★

It sounds like the premise of a Duplass brothers movie: Two lifelong dude pals, now approaching their late 20s and heading in very different directions, are convinced to make out as part of someone’s dumb student film; privately, but profoundly, the experience unlocks something at the heart of their friendship. In fact, it was the premise of a Duplass brothers movie (or at least a movie starring a Duplass brother).

Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday” and Xavier Dolan’s new “Matthias & Maxime.” It’s a world of difference as clear but crossable as that between male friendship and male intimacy; gay panic and gay desire. Both films compellingly test the electric fence that runs along the parameters of heteronormative behavior, but only Dolan’s embraces the full seriousness of its story prompt.

In many ways the aging enfant terrible’s most grown-up movie to date — and certainly a return to form after the non-stop hostility of “It’s Only the End of the World” and the unmoored idol worship of “The Life and Death of John F. Donovan” — “Matthias & Maxine” is a touching but imbalanced drama starting where “Humpday” ends, and leverages their one shared idea into a true and tender portrait of sad boy self-discovery. Mishandled detours abound, and Dolan’s focus continues to waver even as his emotional sensitivity is sharper than ever, but his latest film still offers a generous corrective to a society of men who’ve been conditioned to think that it’s safer to burn down their bridges than take a peek at what might be waiting for them on the other side.

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