Mommy – Movie Review


Mommy – Movie Review by David Turpin.

Directed by Xavier Dolan.

Starring: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément

Mommy, the fifth feature from Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan, reaches our shores less than a year after its immediate predecessor, Tom at the Farm. However, anybody who expected the tightly focused and classically structured Tom at the Farm to mark a sea-change in Dolan’s approach will be confounded by Mommy, which bears a closer relation to his first feature, 2009’s bracing I Killed My Mother, and to his 2012 epic Laurence, Anyways (2012).

The story concerns a brassy 46-year-old widow, Diane (Anne Dorval), lone parent to Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), a 15-year-old with ADHD whose violent outbursts have recently led to his expulsion from an institution for troubled young people. The symbiotic but fractious relationship between Diane and Steve is complicated when they are befriended by neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément).

Both lead actresses are Dolan regulars, with Mommy marking the writer-director’s fourth collaboration with Dorval and his third with Clément. Dorval’s part, in particular, recalls her turn in I Killed My Mother (in which Clément also appeared as an interloper into the mother-son relationship, albeit of a different kind).

A key difference between Mommy and I Killed My Mother is that Dolan himself does not appear in the role of the son. Here Pilon, who has an unselfconscious quality that Dolan himself lacks as a performer, makes Steve’s hairpin turns from docility to fury both genuinely affecting and convincingly dangerous.

One’s tolerance for stylistic and dramatic volatility will determine how one takes Mommy. Dolan’s sheer brio is arresting and the film, as ever, feels intensely personal – but some may wilt under its sustained pitch of near-hyseria, especially at a hefty running time of 139 minutes. If Tom at the Farm suggested a distillation of some of Dolan’s pet themes, Mommy works in the opposite direction, blowing them up to supersize proportions and daring us not to be swept along.

Dolan’s excesses as a filmmaker (exemplified here by a seemingly endless montage set to the turgid entirety of Oasis’s “Wonderwall”), are leavened in his best work by an unfailing empathy for his characters. While it’s easy to dismiss his strong connection to the male heroes of his films as callow narcissism, even when he isn’t playing them, this is mitigated by his palpable affinity for his female characters. Dorval’s performance here borders on the heroic for sheer investment alone, and Dolan showcases her in a way that is both loving and unsparing. While the parallels with Pedro Almodovar’s director-actress relationships are obvious, Dolan does not treat his actresses like dolls.

The film’s empathy is rendered in visual terms by Dolan’s decision to shoot (almost) the whole thing in a 1:1 aspect ratio, the enclosure of the image echoing the constriction placed upon the characters, and allowing for moments of relief when the picture briefly opens out into a widescreen ratio. This is the kind of broad-stroke flourish Dolan does very well, and it’s daring precisely because it is so literal-minded. Ultimately, the perfectly square image serves as a neat encapsulation of Mommy as a whole. Whether one views it as a grandstanding stunt or a powerful statement, one cannot deny the commitment with which it is sustained.


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