Mommy (2014) (Not Rated)
"Mommy" is a gut-wrenching movie. It sits quietly, stomps loudly, swears humorously, and blindsides you with its intensity. The way that director Xavier Dolan handles the movie (with so much maturity and poise, as he always has) one can only make comparisons to "A Streetcar Named Desire"; yet if anything, this is the harder piece to handle.
In his debut piece, "I Killed My Mother", Dolan made it absolutely clear that maternity is something fascinating and even volatile to him. There is an intense love for mothers in both movies; yet in "Mommy" we see an even darker side to the tale and here I think Dolan starts parting from his own life/beliefs and is starting to simply make glorious cinema.
Like "Laurence Anyways", "Mommy" is a hefty and laborious movie, one that takes your energy.
At the movie's opening, we are introduced to a fictional Canada, one that has certain laws that influence the way that parents and trouble children interact (to be honest and with the intention of no spoilers, the majority of the film does not hinge on this; but the knowledge of it is crucial). Diane Després, or "Die" (Anne Dorval) is called in to a center and told that her son can no longer stay in the facility for violent and disturbed/troubled teenagers. He set fire to the cafeteria.
Right away, Dolan firmly grounds his characters. Die is just a wee bit like white trash. She struts around in clothes meant for someone half her age and she finds bizarre ways to fix her hair up. Always the life of the party, she loves to flirt and show off if it helps her get her way.
Die's son, Steven (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is a handful, and that's putting it mildly. Die takes him and his incredibly foul mouth back to their new home, in a semi-suburban neighborhood. Steven is all over the place and Die confides in a friend half way through the movie that he has been diagnosed with ADHD and is still reeling from his father's death three years ago.
Steven is someone to be afraid of and someone to love, Die does both of these; but the latter more. When he flies into his tempers, Steven can become horribly violent, one scene shows him pressing his mother up against a wall and choking her with very hazy intentions. Yet when it's good, it's really good and these two's relationship is one of the oddest and perhaps most original seen in film thus far. They scream and fight and smack each other, but their emotional bond is almost too much. Die will walk in an Steven masturbating and not blink an eye, throwing his used tissues away and grabbing his dirty clothes and Steven will grope his mother when they dance. It sounds like red flags should be firing off in the audience's head with every passing scene and they do; but not as much as you would suppose.
Because Dolan makes Steven incredibly vulgar, spastic, and unexpectedly violent it make us sympathize with Die so much; and Dorval's performance is filled with love...that love, we can somehow relate to.
Kyla (Suzanne Clément) lives across the street from the odd family and she eventually gets pulled into their lives. A timid and shy woman, she has a speaking problem that is trigger by some sort of anxiety attack and has been haunting her for a few years. Steven's blunt social ineptitude leads him to start mocking her for her stammer (Die, of course, scolds him for it; but controlling Steven is much like controlling a volcano). Kyla starts to visit Steven and Die more and more often and Die pulls Steven out of school and loses her job. Now with no job and bills starting to pile up, Die has no choice but to make drastic decisions. Lucky for her, Kyla is present.
This woman was a former teacher before she developed her speech impediment and Steven is now being home-schooled so Kyla begins to help him with his schoolwork. One of the key scenes of violence, drama, and chilling acting comes when Kyla and Steven attempt to have their first lesson together.
Dolan is right to never completely spell his characters out with long monologues that reflect their every inner thought. The inspiration of Woody Allen and Gus Van Sant can be seen in the movie, though I doubt either director ever had a story quite as intense as this one.
"Mommy" is a long movie, but it never ceases to dazzle.
Shot in a 1:1 aspect ratio, the boxed in feeling of just the screen itself makes "Mommy" feels even more pressurized. Dolan's ability to manipulate the audience with how he presents the film itself is unfairly talented.
But this is not a pleasant movie, which I knew when I went into it; but I don't think anyone else in the theater did. It has an innocuous name and it seems like a hard-hitting but safe family flick, right? Well, not really.
Here, we have to talk about the acting, because the entire cast is so sensational that it rivals a lot of more famous movies. Dolan's particular script-writing techniques (most notably the way the characters switch from French to English and back) lead us to almost hyperbolic explosively emotional scenes. There is something spectacular about the way that he treats the buildup of anger and resentment. Anne Dorval played the mother in Dolan's first movie and here she is given more room to spread her acting skills. She commands the movie. Pilon (who was featured in Dolan's music video "College Boy") is the antithesis to Dorval, always what she isn't and vice versa. The two together are unrivaled in intensity. But the movie truly belongs to Suzanne Clément who was also given a lot of room to shine in "Laurence Anyways". Dolan's regulars have shaped his intimate movie into a vast piece that begins to resemble literature. Clément's tactile way of speaking comes close to how good Colin Firth was in "The King's Speech"; yet her outbursts are far more devastating than anything Tom Hooper could dream up.
"Mommy" is not for the faint of heart. It has a keen mind and a ruthless hold on what love really is. Dolan does subtle things to disrupt the viewer, like displacing time (not narratively, but very subtly, with references to what year the characters are living in). It's so beautiful, so terrible, and so appropriately watchable. It's quite incredible.
Posted by Micah Jones