Cast: Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Patrick Huard.
Running Time: 139 minutes
Synopsis: Die (Dorval) must take on her violent and disruptive son once he is kicked out of his latest school. Trying to juggle life along with her son becomes a tad easier thanks to the help of a neighbour teacher, currently taking a break from work.
Xavier Dolan may be young, but his catalogue speaks for itself. True, there is still much fine tuning to be done, but having sat in the director’s chair at 20 and continuing to experiment and perfect his craft, he is also one of the most original and impressive voices in cinema today. Not only that, but MOMMY also shows a distinct amount of restraint where longtime and more mature filmmakers would delve into absurdism and needless controversy.
The most striking and unforgettable part of MOMMY is its aspect ratio. Not often you hear that about a film, and I’m fully aware how boring it sounds. However, at a ratio of 1:1, Dolan offers us an exact square. What seems gimmicky at first soon becomes natural, as we, and the story, are confined to a very small space. It means that the actors become a greater focus of attention, and Dolan has to be more creative in order to fit his vision on screen. It also represents the enclosed and tight world of the mother and son. They both feel trapped, and are trapped, by their current situation, attitudes, and relationships. There is a brief moment, when everything looks to be getting brighter, when the aspect ratio is pushed further. It signifies Steve’s (Pilon) change of attitude, and how his effort could expand his future choices.
Outside of the aspect ratio, there is still much to marvel at. Pilon’s performance is astonishingly powerful and nuanced. His character is disgusting and easy to hate, but Pilon makes the most of those rare moments of insecurity to make Steve relatable. This means whenever he explodes with anger, we are fully understanding that he is unable to control his reactions. These are brilliant and terrifying moments, and is probably how we should feel when Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk. WIthout turning big and green, Pilon conveys so much more.
It’s the titular MOMMY, played by Anne Dorval, who really controls the film and its power. She is neither strong, nor weak. She is a woman in a very difficult situation and Dorval plays her as such. The film never once tries to make her a hero, or doing something amazing, and we are not manipulated into seeing her as some holy grail of motherhood. The tension between her and Pilon is palpable, and despite the fact that sexual tension certainly does enter the fray, Dolan never takes it too far. He hints at it, explores it slightly, but leaves the rest up to us. He could have gone for easy shocks, but the gentler portrayal is even more memorable.
Dark, but certainly hopeful, MOMMY is a confident film that only sometimes outstays its welcome. There are a few too many montage sequences to tracks probably very personal to Dolan, and these sequences merely extend an already lengthy running time. This is a small quibble though, as powerful scenes soon follow, giving us a little reward. You won’t feel comfortable, and perhaps this is why the film is being released the week after Mother’s Day, so as not to entrap unwitting mothers and children. But you will certainly feel something, and a lot of that something too. Raw and powerful, Dolan’s exploration of family, aggression, and second chances hits many a nerve with its mixture of experimental aspect ratios and brutally honest performances. The screenplay is patient and considered as it gradually has us loving such flawed characters.
[usr=4]MOMMY is released 20th March.