I’ll admit it now, I’m a Xavier Dolan novice. Mommy is only the second film that I’ve seen of this French/Canadian wunderkind, and the first, Tom at the Farm, I saw the night before. For those who are Dolan diehards, this review may seem a tad uninformed and will not go into a discussion of his four previous films.
Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) has just come home after a stint in a juvenile detention centre. Diane (Anne Dorval, looking more like Katey Sagal in Sons of Anarchy), his widowed mother, begins to reorganise her life to prepare for his return in their new house and becomes understandably flummoxed. Shortly after arriving home, the pair are joined by Kyla (Suzanne Clement), a stammering neighbour who quickly strikes up a close relationship with both.
Steve’s behavioural issues remain perpetually at the surface, always ready to explode. This tension whether in the midst of a manic episode or lying dormant during an equalised state lead to an audience alertness as the future comes into question.
Shot in 1:1 aspect ratio, writer/director/editor/costume designer Dolan frames his characters within a limited and claustrophobic world. They are constrained and constricted, only free for two brief moments where Dolan plays with framing to surprising movements.
Music plays a crucial role elevating scenes and demands a strong sensory experience. In this case, these choices reflect opposition to change (Celine Dion “On Ne Change Pas” (translating to one doesn’t change), to surrendering (Dido’s “White Flag (No Surrender)”) and feeling melancholic (Eiffel 65’s “Blue”). These choices also reflect the upbringing of the 25 year old auteur and suggest a time setting of the early noughties rather than it’s 2015 setting). Will these choices work for everyone? Probably not, but who would have thought that two women dancing to Celine Dion with a hyperactive 15 year old could be slightly mesmerising? Well, maybe those who are familiar with Dolan, but still.
For it’s 134 minute running time, Mommy floats by leaving time hanging in a temporal space unlimited by distraction or the desire for events to be sped up. Pilon, Dorval and Clement give transcendent, tour de force performances and light the screen on fire with moments of intensity mixed with more tender moments filled with light.
Without mincing worlds, Mommy blew my mind and was a transfixing cinematic experience. The only flaw lays in an imagined sequence in which an unnecessary casting change occurs.
Mommy is a film about opportunity and hope, and what happens when it brakes. It is simply not to be missed.
You can find Dan Santos’ review of Mommy here.