As you might have guessed, Xavier Dolan’s latest hipster film is about a mother and her son. Anne Dorval plays Diane Després (known in the film as Die), a gutsy widow who is forced to accept full-time custody of her teenage son, Steve, after he is evicted from his reformatory school. In the aftermath of the upheaval, Die begins to struggle to home-school Steve, who suffers from ADHD, whilst working to keep on top of the bills. But when a reclusive neighbour (Suzanne Clément) stumbles into their home after overhearing a particularly explosive row, Die sees an opportunity for mutual aid. In exchange for help in educating her son, Die offers Kyla (Clément) a chance to regain her confidence in a domestic world that is raw, explosive and utterly charming in all it’s madness.
Dolan’s domestic drama is everything you’d expect from an indie feature-length. It’s artistically shot, with lingering close-ups and montages played out amidst the mellow tones of Noel Gallagher and Lana Del Ray. Not to mention the unusual aspect ratio, which portrays 90% of the action through portrait orientation. It’s kooky, but far from the wishy-washy coming-of-age exploration to which we’re accustomed. Mommy packs a serious punch.
In some ways, Mommy provides an unofficial sequel to Dolan’s directorial debut, I Killed My Mother (2009), which offered a semi-autobiographical examination of the mother and son bond. But in this instance, Dolan is tackling the challenges of motherhood, rather than childhood, dealing with issues such as emotional turmoil and mental illness in the process. Diane Després is quick-witted and sharp-tongued; she’s less Eva Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and more Erin Brockovich. With a captivatingly brash attitude and an assured self-confidence, Die puts paid to domestic stereotypes of motherhood, instead offering insight into a mother-son relationship that allows for mutual respect, affection, and importantly, fallibility. Dolan demonstrates that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, and refuses to make Die apologise for her supposed flaws. It’s refreshing, to say the least.
Antoine-Olivier Pilon undoubtedly matches Dorval’s explosive performance, in his extraordinary portrayal of Steve, the unruly teenage son. Pilon is convincing in every playful jest and violent outburst, successfully creating an environment so volatile that it’s almost uncomfortable to watch. Except you will watch, and you’ll watch with undivided attention as you become engrossed in the pair’s dysfunctional suburban world. When Kyla, the startled outsider, enters into the mix, you’ll feel two parts concerned and one part intrigued. But Dolan satisfies our appetite for cinematic tropes as Kyla wins Steve over with her patient home-schooling, and draws upon the teenager’s infectious energy in her own search for validation. Beneath the trendy façade, Mommy is a classic, perhaps even corny, feel-good film. My only criticism would be that it seems a little drawn out during the last twenty minutes, but the final 30 seconds is worth the wait.
Aesthetically appealing, comical in its predictable soundtrack, shocking, and undeniably heart-warming – it’s a must watch.
Director: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément
Running Time: 132 mins
Release Date: 20 July 2015