By Gary Murray

Starring Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clement

Written and directed by Xavier Dolan

Running time 139 min

MPAA Rating R    

Selig Film Rating Matinee


Xavier Dolan is the independent director of such art house faire as I Killed my Mother and Tom at the Farm.  His films are an acquired taste at best.  His latest and more accessible work is Mommy.

Anne Dorval plays Diane “Die”, a stunning single mother with a problem.  Her son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is in an institution, a problem child who is one step away from being locked up in juvenile detention.  While in lock-up, he attacked another teen.  His ADHD combined with surging hormones are wreaking havoc on his young brain.  Diane decides that she can care for her son better than the government and takes him out of the institution. 

They move into a new neighborhood and befriend Kyla (Suzanne Clement) the woman next door.  She is a mousy, suburban mom who is enthralled by the flash and flare of Diane.  Kyla is also a bit put-off by Steve who both attacks and comes on to her.  

The story is of the relationship between the three principles as they form a dynamic family unit.  It is like a cat and mouse game as Steve turns his affections between the two women and as the women find some common understanding within themselves and within the context of mental illness.

Some of the most brilliant performances of 2014 occur in Mommy.  Anne Dorval delivers the type of performance that wins awards.  She is flashy and vain but steadfastly determined to do what is right for her son.  She uses her slowly fading feminine wilds to manipulate everyone in her life.

Antoine-Olivier Pilon is our crazed kid who cannot get a firm grip on reality.  In many ways he is a typical teen, trying to understand a world that seems just beyond his grasp.  It is a painful performance that the young actor delivers with a stunning degree of believability.

The problem with the film is in the execution.  Writer director Xavier Dolan decides to close his camera in and shoot the film with a vertical feel, more of a one-to-one ratio.  Imagine turning the I-phone right side and shooting from that angle. 

As the kid seems to get better, the frame widens out. The film frame slides to a more correct style.  Then as the kid slides back into his disease, the film goes back to the 1 to 1 ratio.  It really feels as if this is some Film 101 student trick and not a compelling way to present a work of substance. 

The other problem is that there is not much to the physical story.  It is way too much talking and not enough action.   The audience is a fly on the wall, but there is not much substance to the events.  We need to see what happened before the film in order to get a more detailed story. 

It is very surprising that Mommy didn’t generate an Oscar nod for Best Foreign Language Film and a Best Actress nod for Anne Dorval.  They are both deserving and sorely ignored by the Academy. 

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