Film Review – Mommy
In the past few years, a handful of films are experimental, pushing the industry into new territories. Many films try to do this, but do not have much meaning or substance to back up its adventurous takes on film making. Mommy is a French Canadian film that deviates from the norm. It is apparent from the first minute that it will not be an average or stick to the conventional rules.
Xavier Dolan, both writer and director of Mommy, has become a Cannes darling because of his unique filmmaking and his young age. Mommy is another example of his creativity. He centers the film on a trio of characters. Diane “Die” Deprés (Anne Dorval) is the mother, struggling with a disruptive, sometimes violent son. Steve Deprés (Antoine Olivier Pilon) is kicked out of detention center due to fighting and is forced to come and live with his under-prepared mother. Across the street from Die and Steve lives an outwardly normal family, but upon meeting the wife/mother, it is apparent there is something wrong there. Kyla (Suzanne Clément) is soft spoken and a bit odd. Somehow, the trio become friends and rely on each other. However, Steve is so troubled and a handful that any peace is short-lived.
In the prologue, we are told that it is set in the future (2015) after a new law in Canada has passed that allows a parent to give up a child, no questions asked. The film opens, but you may think something is wrong with your theatre screen. Almost the entire film is in a 1:1 aspect ratio. On the theatre screen, it looks like the film is using only about 1/3 of it. I kept waiting for the film to open up to the full screen. What event would Dolan use to enhance our view of Mommy? I do not want to give much away, but the reason for the aspect ratio is quite inventive and its reveal is spectacularly beautiful.
The use of early 2000’s and late 90’s music is another memorable aspect. Dolan uses Dido, The Counting Crows, Oasis, and others as a soundtrack. It should be said that they do not always really compliment the scenes they accompany, but somehow it works.
Music and aspect ratio aside, the tumultuous relationship between Die and Steve is main plot point. Die, wanting to be the best mother possible, takes her son back in and tries to educate him and punish him for his bad deeds. Steve is a handful, angry, hyperactive, violent, and puts his deceased father on a pedestal. The relationship is messy and uncomfortable. I could not help but to cringe at some things. Having Steve as a son would be a nightmare for so many, yet Die is taking him on again as a single parent. There are many unexplained elements of their background, so the audience is left to guess. Enter Kyla. She stutters and soft-spoken. It is like she is the missing puzzle piece in Steve and Die’s life. Why on earth Kyla endears herself to these two people is hard to decipher. Something has happened in Kyla’s recent past that goes unexplained for the entire film, but one scary, out of character encounter with Steve may shed light on it. Ironically, this encounter only makes Steve like Kyla more. Steve somehow is glue that holds the three together, and when things unravel again for Die, the trio is never the same.
Xavier Dolan’s Mommy is a departure from a “normal” mother-son relationship film. Along with its unique take on the use of aspect ratio and music, it is one of the more interesting films I saw in 2014. It does have its cringe-worthy moments, though I am sure it is on purpose. Mommy may get a cult following. If not for its January release date and it being a foreign film, it would undoubtedly already have one.