Movie Review - Mommy (2015)

Xavier Dolan has made yet another film about a weird relationship between a mother and son. His directorial debut was I Killed My Mother, which has a lot of similarities and/or parallels with this movie. It's so much that this, his fifth feature's title here could have been "I Killed My Son."

Dolan even employs the same actress who played the mother in his debut. Clearly, Dolan has issues regarding his mother that he needs to work out. Hopefully, this will be the last at least for a while. He should wait at least 10 or 20 years, so that he can get further perspective or work on his writing.

Dolan does excel at aesthetics. He can craft interesting if not compelling visuals and he can perhaps pull good performances from his cast, but his writing feels hollow or superficial at best. He has a good idea that he's building in this film but he leaves it on the surface. He doesn't dig deeper. It could be then beholden to the actors to pick up the slack and carry the weight, which they do for the most part, but it's not enough.

The writer-director employs a filmmaking gimmick where he presents the entire film in an aspect ratio of 1:1. Instead of seeing a widescreen image, which most audiences are accustomed, the image is a perfect square. On the screen, the image looks pillarboxed with a lot of black space on the left and right side. It's not even the 4:3 aspect ratio or the slightly adjusted Academy ratio. It's a perfect square and it's really distracting.

Dolan's intent was to intensify the emotions of his character or thrust the audience more intimately into the world that he's showing. Yet, the movie bumps into its own walls as almost to be clunky and loud to a point that I couldn't invest or be absorbed.

Anne Dorval stars as Diane, a no-nonsense, strong-willed, boozing mother living in Canada who speaks French. She's a single mom who is struggling financially. There's not much explanation of her life before the start, or her relationship with the father of her child. She goes to pick up her son who was in a detention center after he sets the cafeteria on fire, which horribly scars another teenager. Diane, however, doesn't care or dismisses that incident outright. Her dismissal of that undermines her character for much of the movie.

Antoine-Olivier Pilan co-stars as Steve, the son who was in the detention center. He seems to be only 15 or 16 years-old. Supposedly, he sets the fire that got him kicked out the center. He could be charged with a crime, but he's not. He does become the subject of a civil lawsuit, but Steve's character never addresses it, nor does he address whatever happened that sent him to the detention center in the first place. As such, Dolan doesn't address it and actively avoids it.

The avoidance of these things reeks of a lack of empathy in certain regard. It creates a chill that makes the movie too cold to which to get close. It creates a hollowness that Dolan isn't able to fill or bridge with his aesthetics. Even in a clear cinematic moment when Dolan opens the screen to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which is the current widescreen format, the movie gets a little warmer but yet there's still a distance to it. Widening the image in this one moment is meant to convey a different emotional state. Yet, I don't get how it's distinguished with other moments of similar emotional states that we have to stare at in such a box.

Suzanne Clément co-stars as Kyla, a next-door neighbor who used to be a teacher. She's on sabbatical after experiencing some problems. She's shy and seems somewhat anxious. She has a stutter and perhaps is slightly agoraphobic. She befriends Diane and Steve, and even starts to tutor Steve who is incapable of going to school. Kyla and Steve seemingly bond, but the question is why.

Particularly, there's no sense why Steve takes to her. Besides horny obsession, there's no explanation for Steve's behavior. Steve never tries to befriend children his own age, so why her? There's certainly no explanation for Kyla's behavior. No context or history for Kyla is provided. There are hints dropped but it's not enough to indicate much of anything.

Then, Dolan throws things out there that literally come out of nowhere. One in particular is incest. Where does that come from? Steve kisses Diane. This teenage boy kisses his mother and in a way that feels highly inappropriate. Steve even acts as a jealous lover when adult men show interest in his mom. Yet, Dolan provides no arc to explain it. He clearly does it only to be shocking. He instead indulges in pointless montages than going into any depth, so I neither understand or care about these characters and their incestuous moment. Dolan might want to take a page from the TV series Bates Motel, if he wants to explore Oedipal complexes.

This film was the Canadian official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. It didn't get the nomination and I feel rightly so. It won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and it was nominated for the Palme d'Or, which makes me question what the other nominees were. It was also wrongly nominated for the Queer Palm because there are no gay characters or overtly gay themes explored here. Oddly though, it won a Dorian Award, which I can guess is only because Xavier Dolan is himself gay, but this is his first feature totally absent anything LGBT.

One Star out of Five.
Rated R for language throughout, sexual references and some violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 19 mins.

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