Review of MOMMY

by Simon on April 8, 2015 · 0 comments

Xavier Dolan burst onto the festival scene in 2009 with his debut feature I Killed My Mother, an autobiographical film in which he plays a young man at odds with his mum, brilliantly portrayed by French-Canadian actress Anne Dorval. Four films and five years later, Dolan is back exploring the mother-son relationship, with Dorval once again his maternal muse. And although the performances are outstanding, and there’s plenty of Dolan’s trademark vigour throughout, it’s a long and at times overindulgent examination of a hyperactive teenager, his white-trash mum and their kindly neighbour.

mommy-poster-screenwiseDorval plays Diane Despres, a single mum who dresses like a teen, walks like a hooker and talks like a wharfie. When her son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is expelled from boarding school for burning down the cafeteria, she chooses to home-school him rather than put him into government care – an option available thanks to a new (fictitious) Canadian law. Steve is every parent’s worst nightmare: flippant, cruel, petulant and prone to violent rage. Diane does her desperate best to cope and unexpected help comes in the form of a middle-aged neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clement), a woman recovering from a breakdown that has left her with a speech impediment. The three of these people – each damaged in a different way – make for fascinating company as Diane tries to work out how she can manage life with her difficult son, a young man who can also turn on the charm.

Mommy is both more intimate and more naturalistic than Dolan’s earlier films, and at heart it’s a tight study of two wound up characters who show unbounded love for each other, but who simply cannot exist for long in the same space. Dolan’s key metaphor for this is a constricted aspect ratio, much of the story played out as close-ups in a square frame. As always his music choices and montage sequences are the most evocative part of his repertoire, but the bad-mouthed dialogue scenes – although filled with dark humour – get repetitive and bloat the running time to an unnecessary 140 minutes. Dorval and Clement are superb as two women helping each other with their personal tragedies, and Pilon captures the pouting provocative energy of an ADHD sufferer with high-intensity relish. The film cleaned up at the recent Canadian Screen Awards and took out the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.  It’s intimate, ill disciplined and in your face cinema – one moment operatic, the next soap.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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