MOMMY (Canada/IFI/139mins)
Directed by Xavier Dolan. Starring Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clément, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Patrick Huard
THE PLOT: Widow Diana ‘Die’ (Anne Dorval) is trying her best to make it on her own, but when her violent and unpredictable son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is thrown out of a care facility, Die struggles to bring him up on her own.

THE VERDICT: MOMMY is a compelling but frightening film, which underlines the strength and bravery it takes to become a parent. Anne Dorval is strong in the role of the titular ‘Mommy’, Die. Dorval is not afraid to make Die less than perfect, and seemingly takes pleasure in showing the various sides of the character, and highlighting the fact that Die may well have had an influence on Steve’s behaviour. Antoine-Olivier Pilon is fearless as Steve, making the character violent, horrible, unpredictable and seemingly irredeemable. As well as this, Pilon manages to show that the character has a kind heart, but this is buried so far down that it is often hard to locate. Suzanne Clément is quietly wonderful as Die and Steve’s neighbour Kyla; afflicted with emotional issues that have taken a physical toll, Clément keeps Kyla understated but strong, with some incredibly powerful breakout scenes. Kyla often provides balance between Die and Steve, but never loses herself in doing so.

Xavier Dolan’s screenplay tells the story of a struggle between two imperfect characters, and does so impressively. The emotion between the characters feels real and genuine and, although there are times where scenes and situations feel drawn out, and others rushed, there is a feeling of coherence to the film, especially with a fictional law hanging over the characters’ heads. There are hints given to round out the characters back stories, but these are often left for the audience to put together themselves, which gives the film an inclusive feel.

As director, Dolan has coaxed moving and engaging performances from his actors; none of them are afraid to be ugly or unlikeable on screen, and all of them have the power to carry their roles. The trouble arises in the film’s running time – 139 minutes – as there are times where the film feels drawn out, and too long for characters to change so little. There are a couple of misdirects, and storylines left hanging, which leaves the film feeling unfinished.

Dolan takes risks with MOMMY, and tells an unpleasant story on screen. Shooting the film in 1:1 aspect ratio adds to the claustrophobic feel of the film, although the audience becomes accustomed to this early on, and is only aware of the enforced aspect ratio when it briefly disappears. This is a strong moment, however, and plays a powerful part in the emotion of the screen. Dolan uses some of the most popular songs of the 90s on his soundtrack – Wonderwall, White Flag – but this is often to the film’s detriment as it feels as though the audience is being given too much information through song lyrics.

In all however, MOMMY is a powerful and unsettling piece of work, which showcases the acting talents of the central cast. Not a lot changes in the lives of the protagonists, but for once it is a lack of change that keeps the film moving.

Rating: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Powerful & unsettling
  • filmbuff2011

    It’s fitting that French Canadian director Xavier Dolan turned 26 on the day his new film Mommy is released. For this is a director who is wise beyond his years, showing the kind of young talent that Orson Welles and Quentin Tarantino also showed before him. Mommy is a story of a mother and a son, but quite an extraordinary pair at that. Diane (Anne Doral) is a widow, older now but still young at heart. Strong-willed and independent, she looks after her teenage son Steve (Antoine Olivier-Pilon). He suffers from ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which makes life almost impossible for Diane and everyone around her. He’s prone to outbursts, flaring tempers and the kind of behaviour that’s regarded as unacceptable in polite society. But despite all that, Diane loves him and the two are inseparable. But with a recent change in Canadian law, Diane is left with the agonising choice of committing her son to a mental institution without need for legal recourse… Mommy is quite a ferocious film. It hits you head on like a ton of bricks, but what a film. There hasn’t been a mother and son story quite like this before. Even with all the screeching, shouting and outrageous behaviour by Steve (which can be grating at times), this is a story about love that remains firmly realistic throughout. Dolan is a great writer of women and in his regular actor Dorval, he’s found a woman who jumps off the screen in three dimensions (no glasses required). It’s a fantastic, moving and heart-breaking performance. Olivier-Pilon holds his own against her, making Steve a troubled but sympathetic character. It may be overlong by half an hour, but you still feel very invested in these characters and their predicament. It’s no surprise that Mommy featured so well in last year’s Cannes Jury Prize. This is a film that simply demands to be seen and is Dolan’s finest work yet. Highly recommended. ****