Directed by Xavier Dolan.
Starring Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clement and Patrick Huard.
A single mother, Diane (Dorval) has to take her ADHD-stricken son, Steve (Pilon), out of an imposed institution and attempt to look after him, whilst trying to get by with work and finances. The pair’s struggles are aided, in part, by a neighbour (Clement), who lends a supportive hand to the widow and son.
25 years old and already racing ahead with his ambitions, Xavier Dolan is rapidly gaining speed in the cinematic sphere. Every one of his films has competed in the Cannes Film Festival, and there’s little doubt as to this becoming a regular haunt for the young writer/director/actor. Mommy premiered early last year at the 67th Festival de Cannes, winning the Grand Jury Prize, entered into the main competition. He’s been regarded as a new Almodovar, has a classic British cinema style to his delivery, and makes raw, engaging films. For those looking for a new talent, Mommy should spotlight this. However, this is a sometimes brutal, somewhat alienating film at points, and will by no means make a splash upon release. It should, hopefully, garner Dolan a new, international audience (he is Quebecois) and bring to light the talents of the filmmaker and his excellent cast.
Before any acting is given a significant limelight, there is the matter of aspect ratio grabbing your attention. Mommy is presented in 1:1, slightly jarring for anyone watching just about anything on TV or in the cinema nowadays. It’s all very thematic, reflecting the limitations Diane and Steve are facing individually and together. It takes time to adjust, but do not be concerned by it, the artistic licence pays off expressively in several sequences.
Without ignoring any of the other artistic elements, Mommy is a film focused more on characters and those actors embodying them. Dolan writes strong women tactfully, always casting accordingly. Having worked with Anne Dorval before, there’s no surprise to see her alongside Dolan again. She is exceptionally compelling as Diane, a tough yet battered widow, struggling with just about everything yet still maintaining levelheadedness. There’s a moment where you can the emotional drain cracking the foundation of Diane’s composure, and it is a wonderfully subtle piece of cinema – Dolan holding on Dorval’s slow eruption of nerves.
This motif of tact and outburst runs throughout, most strikingly with Suzanne Clement’s stuttering neighbour. Moments of the Kyla character getting pushed around are saddening, but also tense. You can sense your own rage building up inside, thanks to Dolan’s abilities with empathy. It’s all a result of Antoine-Olivier Pilon’s erratic performance as Steve, a young teen with ADHD. You can either feel for Steve, or see him as a danger. Whatever the case, watching Pilon crash and dance into scenes is both poetic and nerve-wracking. You are hoping for them all to find the much-needed solace, pining for happiness all the way through.
With such drama comes moments of great heart – the very nature of Dolan’s filmography is to see beauty beyond disrepair. There is so much to love in the three characters; you can judge them, trust them, hate them, and admire them – an all-encompassing look at humanity. It hits home upon first viewing, but it is hard to imagine Mommy being something you could continually revisit. The end is set in such a way that you are left to think about the trio’s future, rather than re-assessing their past.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Piers McCarthy – Follow me on Twitter.