Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes.
Director: Xavier Dolan
Screenwriter: Xavier Dolan
Cast: Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, Antoine Olivier Pilon, Patrick Huard
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 10/22/14
Opens: January 23, 2015
How surprising that Xavier Dolan is not better known here in the States! Born in Montreal in 1989, he directed and acted in his first feature, the semi-autobiographical “I Killed My Mother” (about the contempt that a boy has for his mother in no small part for the bread crumbs that appeared regularly on her lips) when he was only twenty years old. Now at the age of twenty-five with five films under his belt, his latest, “Mommy,” is a ferociously acted melodrama with ample spots of humor, one which calls to mind the traditional fashion of psychoanalysis. While Freudian therapists typically ask about patients’ feelings about their mothers, ascribing many current neuroses to flawed upbringing, they often fail to realize that mothers can also be burdened by a handful. Who knows how many have had to deal with characters like the sixteen-year-old who may be labeled ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), but that label only begins to show how such a flaw can take over one’s life and destroy a household.
Whenever Steve Després (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) would act up, whether in boarding school or at home, you might be tempted to blame his upbringing, a chip off the old block if such an expression could be used for children and their mothers. After all Diane “Die” Després (Anne Dorval), now living in a small town near Québec City, is no blushing schoolmarm but rather a trash-talking, lower-working class, gum-chewing individual currently without a job, who has no problem choosing the range of obscenities when talking to her son. And the young man has no problem in calling his mother a bitch, a whore, and then some. This, however, does not explain the boy’s action in burning down the school cafeteria, resulting in serious injuries to at least one of his peers, causing his expulsion from the school and a $250,000 lawsuit by the mother of the injured lad.
Writer-director Dolan uses a minor sci-fi convention by situating the action in 2015 when a new Québec law, S-14, allows parents to commit their underage children to hospitals without going through the court system if the parents find their charges unmanageable. Thinking she can change Steve, Diane employs the help of her next-door neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a high-school teacher on sabbatical whose speech defect is so severe that she often cannot barely begin a sentence. Yet because of Kyla’s friendship with and acceptance by Diane, the teacher is able to help Diane home-school the boy, all in the service of keeping him out of a hospital for people with emotional problems.
Yet the focus of what amounts to a three-some remains on Diane, who makes up stories for the benefit of both Kyle and Steve, speaking of her departed husband who was an “investment adviser,” and talking of a previous address in Québec City and of her previous job as a French-English translator. Diane is not exactly in denial. She is aware of the seriousness of her boy’s condition, but she responds to his affection for her (in one scene he kisses his mother on the lips) and has a skin so thick then when Steve calls her a bitch and whore, she acts as though he said merely, “I do not approve of what you are doing.”
For his part, Antoine-Olivier Pilon performs as though almost a clone of his mother. He is a handsome fellow, one who thinks of himself as “a good lad,” a young man with blue eyes and a mop of blond hair. He is self-destructive enough that when Paul (Patrick Huard), a lawyer neighbor agrees to take on the lawsuit pro bono, he has a change of heart when Steve curses him out, accusing him of simply trying “to get into my mother’s panties.”
If there is never a dull moment however long this film is—and it is an overlong 2 hours and 20 minutes’ sit—attribute that to the sparks that fly when son and mother are together in a room. Individually, each can shatter glass when speaking their mind. Together, the glass not only shatters but the room itself bursts into flames. This may not be the kind of film to take your parents to on Mother’s Day, but it cannot be faulted for its unpredictability, its originality down to the use of a 1:1 aspects ration (vs the usual 2.35:1), and its acting talent.
Unrated. 139 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+