Starring: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément
After her teenage son Steve (Pilon) is expelled from his latest youth institution, widow Diane (Dorval) decides to have him live back with her despite his ADHD and violent outbursts making him extremely difficult to look after, as the only other option would now be a juvenile detention centre. After Diane loses her job, the two of them face a struggle to get by, but when their new neighbour Kyla (Clément) enters their life things begin to change for both of them.
Having directed five films in five years at the age of 25 is certainly an impressive feat and one to make all budding filmmakers very jealous. That would especially be the case if Xavier Dolan’s films were not any good, well I am happy to admit that I have not seen his other films, but Mommy is an overall very accomplished work and shows that Dolan is an extremely talented and single minded filmmaker. At 139 minutes Mommy does at times lack some discipline and should certainly be shorter, but if the price to pay for a very talented filmmaker showing his creative talents and unique vision is a film being a tad ill disciplined, self indulgent and a bit too long then that is a compromise I am happy to make.
Mommy is a film that is challenging viewing at times but at its heart contains some very universal themes that makes it an engaging and rewarding experience. Dolan uses all the tools available to him as a filmmaker and the unique visual style and use of en eclectic soundtrack in Mommy, despite risking being a distracting contrivance, only serves to enhance the film’s emotional involvement. Mommy is predominantly shot in the extremely narrow format of 1:1, which is essentially portrait orientation. Not only does this add to the almost suffocating intensity of Dolan’s camerawork, it also means that because of Dolan’s predominant use of extreme close ups our sole focus is the character’s faces and for me it is no accident that the ratio is so narrow that it is indeed portrait as opposed to landscape.
There are rare moments in the film when the screen widens and these certainly do represent an emotional freedom that the film’s characters have, quite literally in one scene when Steve pushes out the boundaries of the screen. Thankfully Dolan makes sure to avoid doing this too much and so when it does happen it certainly adds to the viewing experience of the film.
In terms of plot Dolan throws us straight into the lives of these two characters who certainly both demonstrate unlikeable qualities at times. However, as the narrative goes along and shows us all aspects of their personalities and the genuine devotion and commitment they show to one another we become very much involved in their life and do genuinely care for them and what happens to them. Dolan’s unflinching, raw and brutally honest depiction of this mother and son relationship does occasionally go to uncomfortable places, but it makes for a more overall compelling and emotionally rewarding viewing experience.
The introduction of Kyla into their lives is of course a narrative device and though aspects of her character and how it affects the lives of Diane and Steve are a little contrived, the relationship that develops between the three of them is compelling and often genuinely touching viewing. These characters are certainly as flawed as the rest of us, and in some extreme ways, and Dolan intentionally avoids sugar coating this. Our emotional engagement is only enhanced by the three fiercely committed performances that add further emotional depth to the characters and the narrative.
As the narrative goes along, Mommy is engaging, frustrating, heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure – all of these I expect very much intentional on the part of Dolan. It may well be too long, be quite a bit of effort to watch at times and occasionally verge into self indulgence, ill discipline and a little too much style, but Xavier Dolan’s unique and single minded approach makes for a truly memorable and deeply compelling story of three troubled but deeply sympathetic characters who all ultimately have the best of intentions for one another.
Though it is certainly not perfect due to a lack of discipline and occasional self indulgence, Mommy is a raw, unflinching and deeply involving story of a mother-son relationship made with a real passion by its director.