Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Xavier Dolan
Stars: Anne Dorval, Antoine Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clement.
At just 25, Xavier Dolan is a precocious talent, an auteur who has made a number of movies exploring troubled adolescents and dysfunctional relationships between mothers and sons (I Killed My Mother, Laurence Anyways, etc). His latest film, the award winning Mommy offers more of his abrasive characterisations and penetrating insights. This was one of two Dolan films which screened at MIFF in 2014, which shows his versatility and prodigious work rate.
The film is set in Canada in the not too distant future. Here a law has been enacted that gives parents of troubled children the right to have them temporarily committed. The film follows the troubled relationship between the trashy single mother Diane (played by Anne Dorval, a regular in Dolan’s films) and her troubled teenage son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon), who has just been released from a care facility after setting a fire that badly injured another inmate. However, their dysfunctional relationship is nowhere near as disturbing or creepy or unhealthy as that between the young Norman and his mother in the tv series Bates Motel.
Steve is hyperactive, angry and suffers from ADHD, and, prone to violent outbursts, is more than a handful. Diane is determined to try and home school him, but she often struggles to cope with his mood swings and outbursts. And when Kyla (Suzanne Clement, another regular in Dolan’s films), a well intentioned neighbour with an unfortunate stutter, offers help, the situation becomes more combustible.
Given Dolan’s in your face approach Mommy has been handled with surprising restraint at times. Dolan and his cinematographer Andre Turpin employ a flashy visual style that includes some hand held camera work and multiple screen ratios including the boxy 1:1 ratio, the tone is quite claustrophobic at times. But there also seem to be three different endings to the film, one more effective than the others. There are moments of self indulgence here as well, and the running time of 139 minutes seems overly generous given the material. It seems as though Dolan needs a script editor and a guiding hand to help him rein in some of his excesses.
Often Dolan is the star of his films, but recognising that he may be a bit too old to play the troubled adolescent at the centre of this film he has handed over the lead role to newcomer Pilon. The young actor delivers a volatile, powerhouse performance as the troubled and unpredictable teen, and he has a seemingly naturalistic performance style.
Dolan seems to have a knack for creating great roles for actresses, and in Mommy he provides a pair of showcase roles. Dorval’s heartbreaking and emotional performance grounds the film, while Clement brings a fragile quality to her performance.
While Dolan may be a darling of the critics, his films do not register as strongly with the casual filmgoer, and they can often alienate audiences. Mommy is a difficult film, full of despair and anger, but it is also a powerful, emotionally draining drama. However, I found his other film, the tense thriller Tom At The Farm, a more claustrophobic and powerful and accessible drama.