Mommy (2014)

Antoine-Olivier Pilon and Anne Dorval in Xavier Dolan's Mommy

A violent, visual explosion of fiercely maternal love and insuppressible energy, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy reveals a love that will surely tear us apart.

All About My Mother

by Mark Wilshin


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Xavier Dolan, it seems, is slowly turning into Almodóvar, surrounding himself with a heavenly host of wonderful actresses. No more the unrequited gay love with a killer thriller spin in Tom At The Farm, but rather with Mommy we’re treated to Dolan’s women, with both Anne Dorval from I Killed My Mother and Suzanne Clément from Dolan’s previous visual symphony Laurence Anyways. Needless to say, Dolan’s fifth feature Mommy is something special. And while, with its frenetic style and its script of bickering mothers and sons, it closely resembles his first feature, Mommy shows the same story from a different angle – only this time it is all about the mother.

Die (Anne Dorval) isn’t having a great day; she’s crashed her car and her son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) has set fire to the canteen of the correctional institution she had him committed to three years ago following the death of his father. Forced between caring for him herself and sending him to a juvenile detention centre, she takes back her son, complete with his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), violent outbursts and with promises not to institutionalise him again. And it’s a struggle juggling work and her demanding son, but with the help of shy, stuttering neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément), suffering herself from her own personal trauma, the two women manage to get Steve back on the road to recovery. Until that is Steve, Die and his mother’s neighbour-and-love-interest Paul go to a karaoke bar, only for Steve to be jeered off-stage and turn violent. Expectedly, but apocalyptically so.

With Antoine-Olivier Pilon taking over the role of tortured son from Xavier Dolan in I Killed My Mother, Mommy gets a makeover – it’s the same sassy script of fierce quarrels and deep love, but it’s more balanced and the dancers in this diabolic pas-de-deux are at least now on the same footing. And while Pilon does a great job as the troubled Steve – with the boundless energy of a bad-ass labrador – it’s Anne Dorval who really shines here, all tacked up in brassy necklaces, short skirts and a Québecois accent as thick as her sexually aggressive son. A chain-smoking, loud-mouthed force of nature, she’s the mother of all mothers – tough as nails and fiercely protective. But she’s also ably supported by Suzanne Clément in her maternal quest to pacify her son, who also gives a delightful performance as nervous neighbour Kyra. And it’s the domestic scenes shared between the three of them – for better or for worse – that provide Mommy with some of its best moments, as mother and son scream at each other, as Steve tears the house apart or as Die and Kyra sing over a half-drunk box of wine.

Filmed with a dazzling metallic, autumnal sheen, Mommy, much like Steve, is a contradiction – all golden hues and lens flares, but troubled. Shot in 1:1 aspect ratio, Mommy is a perfect square – a claustrophobic space that not only echoes Steve’s anxiety but also forces the action into a very narrow space – a metaphor that reflects, with the immediacy of social media photos, the tightness of an incessantly loving, quarrelling family. The aspect ratio is only broken twice – once as Steve frees himself from the demons that torment him, bursting the frame into widescreen, and then more hauntingly, as Die dreams of a better life for her son, seeing him happy and successful only to wake up and for the grim realities of debt, court proceedings and her out-of-control son to close back in – a beautifully desperate distillation of a mother’s disappointment.

But Mommy dearest isn’t perfect. There’s a very knowing soundtrack and an unnecessarily futuristic framing story which allows the final reel to dissolve into uncontrolled melodrama. But like all of Dolan’s previous films, Mommy lives and dies on its energy, belting out at the speed of sound Die’s fiercely protective love for her son, and creating out of Dolan’s sassy, screeching and outrageous script an overblown, yet devastating portrait of two people who can neither live with nor without each other. It’s more a battery of explosions than a controlled firework display, causing Mommy to come up short on emotion, its more delicate moments torn up by a relentless maelstrom of one-liners. But bursting with energy, Mommy is a powerful tour-de-force indeed.

Mommy is released on 20th March 2014 in the UK

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