30 08 2014

mommyTelluride Film Festival

Fascination with portraying a particular kind of relationship on screen is not necessarily a bad thing – just look at how many compelling films Martin Scorsese has turned out about fathers and sons.  When that fascination turns to fixation, though, further exploration can just wind up being counterproductive.

That’s the case with wunderkind Xavier Dolan, releasing his fifth feature film “Mommy” at the ripe old age of 25.  It’s certainly an accomplished work with plenty to laud: namely, Dolan’s mastery of music and montage.  To those unfamiliar with his work, the film may come across quite unique and fresh.

Yet dig back into Dolan’s filmography to find his debut feature, “I Killed My Mother,” which is essentially the same film as “Mommy.”  Both put a dysfunctional mother-son relationship at their core and takes a look at the way each party drives each other towards insanity.

In “Mommy,” Antoine Olivier Pilon plays a foul-mouthed teen, Steve, who suffers from ADHD and other afflictions.  He clearly tries the patience of his mother, Anne Dorval’s Diane, who’s no angel herself.  Dolan sets their misadventures in an alternative Canadian reality where Diane could have Steve involuntarily committed to a hospital, and it’s clear that easy route is never far out of mind.

“Mommy” also introduces a third character into the mix (“I Killed My Mother” was essentially a two-hander), Suzanne Clement’s friendly neighbor Kyla.  She agrees to help homeschool Steve while his mom is out working, which results in her becoming somewhat like a regular family member.  What exactly Kyla adds to the mix – or what Diane and Steve want to take away from her – is never expressly clear, giving “Mommy” its sole bit of tension.

Anne Dorval

“Mommy,” for the majority of its 140 minute runtime, is essentially the themes from “I Killed My Mother” fumbling in search of a new plot.  Diane and Steve are a complete facsimile of the relationship in Dolan’s debut, and the rehash does not feel worthwhile until Dolan finds a direction for their characters.  There’s reason to give them a chance in the first act.  By the second act, however, the jig is up, and it strains patience.

Dolan’s eye for aesthetics begins to overpower the plot towards the end of “Mommy,” which does manage to end on a bit of an upswing.  But even taking that into account, the film feels far less stylish than “I Killed My Mother.”  There’s a certain panache missing from “Mommy,” which is something Dolan’s prior films usually possessed in spades (and often to their own detriment).

It almost feels like Dolan wants to play the film safe, which is usually something directors do in their preliminary features and not after them.  “Mommy” thus provides a more conventional platform to show off leading lady Anne Dorval, whose performance is thus charged with carrying the film.  She succeeds intermittently, but increasingly so towards the end when Dolan’s directorial touch finally begins to infect the frame like it had in prior films.  B2halfstars



One response

30 08 2014
Suzanne Case Edison

So enjoying your reviews from Telluride!

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