Hey! I finally liked a Xavier Dolan movie! Or at least, part of a Xavier Dolan movie. I wasn’t sure about the first act and I thought the third act was a mess, but I did enjoy much of what came in between.
After being the best thing about “J’ai tué ma mère”, Anne Dorval once again dazzles us as Diane “Die” Després, another mother figure who, this time around, is more of a working class, rough around the edges woman. Plus, the tensions between her and her son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), are much less inconsequential than in Dolan’s first film.
Early on, Die picks Steve up from a rehabilitation centre where he set the cafeteria on fire, injuring another boy, and right away, we can tell that he’s a handful, all trash talk and brash attitude. His mom’s quite the loudmouth herself and things often escalate between the two, but her son is clearly a problem child. We’re told he suffers from ADHD and from something called attachment disorder, but it goes further than that, as we realize at the end of the first act when Steve goes into a fit of rage and becomes violent and downright dangerous. At that point, the film shifts gears and really becomes intense.
It’s also at that moment that we’re finally properly introduced to Suzanne Clément’s character, Kyla, a teacher on sabbatical who lives across the street and who ends up forming a somewhat unlikely triangle with Die and Steve. While mother and son spend a lot of time yelling, she’s more the quiet type, stuttering her way through brief, soft-spoken outbursts. Still, we can tell she also has her dark side…
I really liked the dynamic that develops between the three of them, who make the most out of a difficult situation. I should also mention that I appreciated the way Dolan truly focused on his characters and on their story, indulging in very few show-offy stylistic flourishes and needless disgressions.
I guess you could say that the decision to shoot the film in the rare 1:1 ratio (think of a square Instagram picture) is a bit of a gimmick, but while I don’t see why it was necessary, beyond the potential to create an effect by suddenly going widescreen, it’s not that distracting either. In any case, I admired the golden hues of André Turpin’s cinematography and the way it sticks close to the characters.
Also admirable is the use of music, from the dreamy instrumental score by Noia to the many 1990s songs (including Sarah McLachlan’s Building a Mystery, Céline Dion’s On ne change pas, Oasis’ Wonderwall and Counting Crows’ Colorblind, which Dolan borrowed from “Cruel Intentions”).
Getting back to the involving dynamic at the heart of the movie, it seems to get sidetracked a little when an external problem surfaces and Die has to reach out to another neighbour (Patrick Huard), who happens to be a lawyer. From then on, the dramatic progression didn’t make a lot of sense to me and I’m not sure the film earns the big climax it clumsily builds towards.
That being said, I still came out of “Mommy” having liked most of it, which is more than I was ever able to say about a Xavier Dolan movie, even though I always thought he had talent. I’m still far from being ready to say that he’s made a masterpiece and it’s hardly one of my favourites of the year or anything, but again, I can say that I mostly liked it.