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.