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Gabriel Byrne stars in Death of a Ladies' Man, a film inspired by the music of Leonard Cohen.

Jonathon Cliff /DOALM Ontario Inc., Films DOALM Quebec Inc. and Port Pictures Ltd. / Mongrel Media

  • Death of a Ladies’ Man
  • Written and directed by Matthew Bissonnette
  • Starring Gabriel Byrne, Jessica Paré, Karelle Tremblay, Brian Gleeson
  • Classification 14A; 101 minutes

In Jon Stewart’s 2020 comedy, Irresistible, the character played by 57-year-old, 5-foot-9 Steve Carell thinks he stands a chance with the character played by 33-year-old, 5-foot-10 Mackenzie Davis. She laughs at him, asking him in what world could the two of them ever happen.

What world? Well, off the top of my head, a world written and directed by Woody Allen. But also a Leonard Cohen world. And certainly a fantasy world.

Which brings us to Death of a Ladies’ Man, a likable and melodic dramedy from Cohen enthusiast Matthew Bissonnette. An up-to-it Gabriel Byrne stars as a boozing, carousing poetry professor in Montreal who finds his half-his-age wife in bed with a man even younger than her.

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Later, he flirts unsuccessfully with a woman at the bar, has conversations with his dead father, has a relationship with a lass in coastal Ireland and has drinks with Frankenstein. Nothing unusual for a ladies’ man who suffers from emasculations, commitment issues and hallucinations. Monsters and ghosts everywhere – has he checked under the bed?

With a fine balance of winking absurdity and wry humour – Cohen would tip his fedora to the born-and-raised Montrealer Bissonnette on that score – Death of a Ladies’ Man is a charming study of a man in crisis. It’s serious here and funny there. Professional hockey players ice dance to Bird on the Wire, and I love the reply from Byrne’s Samuel O’Shea when asked if he was wasted: “Yes. And I’m a little bit drunk as well.”

Byrne's character begins to have surreal hallucinations and learns he may not be long for this world.

Sébastien Raymond /DOALM Ontario Inc., Films DOALM Quebec Inc. and Port Pictures Ltd. / Mongrel Media

Byrne is wonderful in his boozy role, but other characters don’t fare as well. The best friend, the upbeat gay hockey son, the troubled daughter, the first wife – they’re all just bit players. I’m not interested in them, and neither, apparently, is Bissonnette. So, we agree on that.

In addition to Bird on the Wire, six other Cohen songs are used: Memories, Hallelujah, Why Don’t You Try, Heart With No Companion, The Lost Canadian (Un Canadien errant) and Did I Ever Love You. The film is musical but not a musical. Rather than carrying any narrative, the songs serve as a sort of observer.

One imagines Cohen in the shadows, watching the expressions of love, demise, delusion, redemption and mortality at work. Heart With No Companion plays over the closing credits: “How I greet you from the other side of sorrow and despair, with a love so vast and so shattered, it will reach you everywhere.”

Cohen nails it – better than Bissonnette, one supposes. But, then, wrestling with ghosts is a tricky business.

Death of a Ladies’ Man premieres March 12 on video-on-demand platforms and in select theatres.

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In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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