Published Sep 04, 2014Twenty years ago, Xavier Dolan was sharing the screen in his first made-for-TV movie. Now, the cinematic wunderkind from Quebec has created not only one of the finest movies of his career, but one of the most talked about pictures of the year, Canadian or otherwise.
The version of Canada presented in Mommy is almost exactly the same as our own, save for a new law in Quebec that allow parents to drop off their rowdy and uncontrollable offspring at a government-run care facility should they be unable to parent them. It's an idea that rarely rears its head in the two-plus hour-long feature, but one that sticks in viewers' minds throughout.
Mommy tells the story of one mom in particular, Diane Després (played by previous Dolan collaborator Anne Dorval), and her attempt to come to terms with her often violent and out of control son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon).
When we first encounter Diane, she is seemingly at wits end. Her son has just been kicked out of another boarding school for starting a fire in the cafeteria, she's recently been forced to relocate to another home and the bills are stacking up. But when Diane returns home with her son and notices a neighbour across the street (Kyla, played by Suzanne Clément) taking notice of the pair, their lives begin to intersect.
While much of the film focuses on the trial and tribulations Diane and her neighbour must go through while trying to take care of her son, it's Pilon's portrayal of Steve that truly steals the show. There's a certain unbridled intensity to his character, as Steve's double-fisted ADD and ADHD spontaneously manifest themselves whenever he encounters a fork in the road. Whether it's Steve spinning in a parking lot with a shopping cart or trying to strangely seduce his mother, Dolan captures his transformations from confused child to rage-filled teenager every step of the way with a chaotic grace. Part of the success seems to stem from Pilon's previous work in Just for Laughs: Gags, a show that no doubt required a whirlwind of emotional responses at a moment's notice; with Dolan stepping away from the camera's lens for the first time in awhile and working fully behind the scenes, it's hard not to wonder if he is perhaps evoking some of his own turbulent teenage traumas.
The film primarily plays out in a 1:1 aspect ratio, creating a slightly voyeuristic cinematic experience as the viewer reaches to find out what's happening beyond the perimeter of each scene. Occasionally, the film explodes outwards, literally and figuratively expanding at the edges to encompass each of the film's emotional scenes, before reverting again to its myopic perspective. It's that purposeful sense of style that separates this film from other TIFF features and allows Mommy to expand beyond the confines of a traditional familial drama.