Riveting, gripping, unnerving --- all of these describe the provocative performances of the three main characters, Die (Anne Dorval), her son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon) and their neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clément) in "Mommy".


Die has been widowed for about three years. Her beloved husband left her a classic mixtape of their favorite songs, and their 15-year-old son with ADHD, whom no one can seem to handle. After being discharged from a juvenile detention center, Steve is sent to live again with his mother, who can barely support herself.


Die is determined to make this new arrangement with her son work, but Steve is so completely volatile it seems almost impossible that they can live together. They meet Kyla, the high school teacher on sabbatical, who lives across the street. To assist Die, she begins home schooling Steve so Die can hold down a job. Their lives fall into a manageable rhythm until an old lawsuit against Steve resurfaces, and things quickly unwind.


To write that Pilon is a major artistic find is an understatement of epic proportions. He is front and center in a majority of the scenes, and his acting is at once alarming, engaging and totally off the charts. He's mesmerizing, and then repulsive --- absolutely incredible for someone his age. Steve is devoted to Die, but his condition makes it difficult for them to co-exist. Heartbreaking doesn't begin to describe his predicament.


Dorval and Clément have worked with writer, director, editor, costume designer and producer Xavier Dolan twice before. He has obviously learned how to tap their huge reservoirs of talent, as evidenced by their skillful portrayals in "Mommy". Die is what I would call a " tough broad", who looks like she's been "rode hard and put away wet".  But she loves Steve and fights mightily to make their relationship work --- but it just doesn't.


Clément is amazing as the traumatized Kyla. We never learn why she speaks with a stutter, and what happened to force her sabbatical. But Kyla finds comfort with Die and Steve, a camaraderie she doesn't have at home with her own husband and daughter. She allows herself to get sucked in by Die and Steve's needs --- at almost dire consequences to herself.


Dolan, at age 25, has written and directed six films --- all to critical acclaim. According to our production notes, he himself has strong feelings about his own mother, which he is playing out in his films beginning with his first creation "I Killed My Mother" (2009).


The music in his films is also a very important component. Utilizing the varied artists found on the tape, which Steve plays endlessly, allows for certain memories to be recalled, both by the characters in his films, and his audiences.


"Mommy" is not a mainstream movie meant for the masses. Dolan is a particular kind of a filmmaker, along the lines of a Lars von Trier or even Terrence Malick --- which means you may either love him or hate him. No matter --- "Mommy" is a tour-de-force, and Xavier Dolan is a force to be reckoned with.


Opinion: Strong See It Now!




"Mommy" takes place in Quebec, Canada's French-speaking province, and a new local law is in effect called S14. This fictional ordinance allows parents to incarcerate their children if behavior problems dictate such action. The incarceration is one step above a juvenile placement home, and one step below prison in terms of harshness. The film by 25-year-old director Xavier Dolan is not easy to watch, yet it's hard to take your eyes off the screen.


Diane "Die" Després (Anne Dorval) is a widow with a 15-year-old son, Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon) who is hyperactive, to say the least. His condition is called ADHD ---Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder --- and he is totally unpredictable. One moment he appears completely rational, the next he is twirling a shopping cart in a parking lot, spinning like an Olympic shot putter.


Die has removed him from a center where he started a fire that injured a student. Her decision is a gamble that his behavior can be controlled, and that they can live together under one roof as a normal mother and son. But always there is the dire possibility that she will be compelled to commit him under the S14 law.


Enter a pretty neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clément) who has her own issues. She is married with a child, but she stutters badly when around her own family, as a result of something in her life that is not explained. However, her interactions with Die and Steve eventually bring her out of her shell, or at least allow her to articulate normally, and the trio become close companions.


If this doesn't sound like a very interesting theme for a two hour plus movie, you will find yourself surprisingly absorbed in the story. That's a tribute to the actors and the smart script, written by Dolan. His stamp is all over the film, as he also produced it, in addition to doing the editing, and assisting with the costume design.


Die is not exactly a role model for her son. She's brash, she swears like a drunken sailor, she dresses like a floozy. But she clearly loves her son, and vice versa, although he exhibits both violent and sexual tendencies towards her from time to time. When Die faces the excruciating decision about her son, it's gut wrenching, and an acting coup.


Sitting through this movie sometimes felt like watching a documentary, and I couldn't help but place much of the blame for Steve's erratic behavior on his mother's own extreme personality. Kyla, on the other hand, is quietly the voice of reason, and Clément is excellent in the supporting role as she earns the sympathy of the audience. In fact, both actresses were nominated for Canada's equivalent of the Oscars for their performances in "Mommy", and the movie itself garnered 13 total nominations in Canada. At Cannes, "Mommy" won the Jury Prize, and was nominated for the prestigious Palm d'Or.


Steve is a complex character that Pilon portrays with a believability that belies  his age. We are appalled by Steve's behavior, even a bit confused by it, yet ultimately feel a great sense of pity towards him.


A little non-scientific research reveals that ADHD is something that affects a high percentage of children and adults. It's not really a disorder as much as a unique wiring of the brain where everyday, mundane activities are deathly dull to those with ADHD. As a result, sufferers seek out tasks and activities they find new and exciting, and often the symptoms exhibited by Steve in the film go away.


"Mommy" is a serious movie for serious moviegoers. It is a worthwhile, often fascinating, cinematic experience. The characters are so well constructed that we feel compelled to await the outcome of their fates.


Opinion: See It Now!