A widowed single mother, raising her violent son alone, finds new hope when a mysterious neighbor inserts herself into their household.
The excellent ‘Mommy’ is the fifth feature film from prolific Canadian director Xavier Dolan, who at 25 has turned in a resume that puts many seasoned director’s to shame. The film stars Anne Dorval as a widowed mother (Diane) who is trying to bring up her troubled and violent son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon), eventually with some assistance from her new neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clement). The film’s main focus is on the challenges bringing up Steve places upon Diane and it accurately portrays her struggles as she tries to do right by her son and right by herself. Dolan sets the film in the near future, but this is primarily to allow a framing device which plays an important part in the way the film pans out.
The first thing that grabbed me about the film was the screen’s aspect ratio, which is reduced through the use of two large black bars at either side of the action. Initially distracting, it’s easy to forget about after a while and it serves an important purpose both metaphorically and literally. In a literal sense, it helps to enhance the intimacy of each scene by focusing in on each character and each moment which brings the viewer closer to their experiences, whilst metaphorically it serves to represent the narrow choices the characters are restricted too.
Dolan’s work isn’t afraid to shy away from the darker or more taboo aspects of the material and there’s a thrilling energy at play throughout. The performances from his three lead actors are so powerfully emotional and draining as they wear their heart on their sleeves, displaying every ounce of hurt and pain as they try to make their way through the day. Pilon’s Steve is manic and energetic, simultaneously frightening and drawing sympathy, whilst Anne Dorval is magnificent as a mother trying to hold it all together whilst coming to terms with a son that is becoming too difficult to handle. Suzanne Clement has her moments as well, notably in a scene charged with anger and disturbing sexual intensity when Steve oversteps the mark on the first occasion they’re alone together. Dolan plays this family drama out to an outstanding soundtrack before bringing everything home with an appropriately hard hitting ending.
‘Mommy’ is not without its flaws, but this is thrilling filmmaking from an exciting new voice and I can’t wait to see what Dolan comes up with next.
Directed By: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon and Suzanne Clement