Reviewed by Mitch Burns
Directed by: Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways, Tom at the Farm)
Starring: Anne Dorval, Antoin Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément, and Alexandre Goyette
The relationship between Mother and son is one that has been studied in film for many years, It’s a relationship that deserves observation. We can all agree the relationship between Mother and Daughter has been explored, maybe even to the point of exhaustion. It’s that Mother/Son relationship that doesn’t quite lend itself very easily to the screen, but put into the hands of talented screenwriter and director Xavier Dolan, we’re given an interesting, and very real glimpse into the lives of a Mother.
Diane Després (Anne Dorval) is a widowed single mother, she’s an attractive, older woman doing whatever it takes to make it. Diane had her son, Steve (Antoin Olivier Pilon), institutionalized shortly after her husband’s death. 15-year-old Steve’s mental issues are never actually revealed but he has a form of ADHD and is prone to violent outbursts. Diane is forced to remove Steve from the institution after he starts a fire in the cafeteria and injures another boy.
Diane seems happy to have her son back in her life, but is still struggling to support her family, she doesn’t have anyone to watch Steve and doesn’t have the time to homeschool him either. Diane doesn’t struggle for very long, as mysterious neighbor from across the street, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), inserts herself into the Després’ lives. Kyla agrees to watch and even teach Steve, as she is a school teacher on a sabbatical. Kyla is also a mother, and wife to husband Patrick (Alexandre Goyette), and is working through some emotional issues herself, which often take form as a stutter.
‘Mommy’ delves into the lives of Diane, Steve and Kyla as they work through their issues together. The story itself is an earnest look into motherhood, and being the parent of someone with a mental illness. It’s beautifully and brutally honest, you’ll question the actions of Steve and Diane one minute, and then applaud them the next. Diane and Steve’s vicious verbal arguments make you feel as if you’re in the room, you feel like turning away but you must watch.
Xavier Dolan feels like a character himself, inserting his definitive style onto the film. It’s not certain which time period ‘Mommy’ is set, you’d guess present day, but it feels like the 90’s by the way the characters dress, the cars and the soundtrack. The film is shot in 1:1 aspect ratio, and it may be bothersome to a few, I only noticed it a few times. I could have only hoped for a wider aspect ratio as to take in more of Dolan’s style and artistic vision.
‘Mommy’ is light on plot, keeping many character details close to the vest, which can become infuriating, especially in the case of the neighbor Kyla. Kyla is just as interesting as Steve and Diane, but we are given limited information on her, her family and her history.
I’m saddened by the handling and release of ‘Mommy’, as it is a Canadian release and I am very proud to see something so wonderful come out of Canada, but I would have been happier to see it garner Oscar attention, although I’m fairly happy with its box office results. The acting by the three leads is marvelous, and each performance is worthy of accolades, as well are the script, direction and cinematography, but it couldn’t even garner a foreign language nomination last year. I’m including ‘Mommy’ in my 2015 run as it’s release has been staggered, and was barely viewable until after The Oscars, It’s sad that it is so difficult to see a Canadian made film in Canada.
Xavier Dolan serves as his own editor here, and I have to say he did a fine job, the film runs for just over 2 hours but it seems to move by at a solid pace. If he was looking to shorten it up though, I would have removed (or shortened) some moments involving one of Diane’s horny neighbors, and his involvement with the family.
*Slight Spoilers Ahead*
I have to discuss an issue I had with the film, and while it didn’t bother to any extreme, it definitely is confusing. The film opens with some text explaining a fictional situation where Canada has implementation a law stating that a parent can give their children up if they have major issues that disrupt the household. Opening the film like this is the biggest piece of foreshadowing I’ve ever seen, and it feels clunky. It’s not entirely bothersome but this piece of information will be in the back of your mind the whole film, and you know it’s going to come back into play at some point, right? *End Spoilers*
To many, What Xavier Dolan has created here may come across as regular indie fare, with its 1:1 aspect ratio, 90’s score and the countless scenes that take place in the middle of the street, but it’s a beautiful story about a mothers ferocious love for her child, and his for her.
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