I hated the title Mommy until about half an hour into Xavier Dolan’s brilliant new film, when it became abundantly clear that the title was perfect. Not since Spanking The Monkey, David Russell’s feature debut, has there been such an intimate examination of forty-something mother / teenage son relations.
The film is about many things – it’s got deep thinking embedded at every level: script, production, post-production – but the primary theme that resonated with me was how we create our own universes. Mother and son construct a life together, and it’s totally at odds with society, as represented by their neighbours and the public places they visit. But it works for them. I felt a great sense of self-analysis: how crazy is my little family? How crazy – or sane – is anyone?
I almost feel that, as a father, I can review this film but were I not one I could not – because only as a parent do you understand the unconditional parental love that this film takes as a fait accompli – and yet its creator is neither a father nor a sufferer of any of the ills that infect this close family. Perhaps he’s a great filmmaker, instead. Dolan is twenty-six years old, and this is his fifth feature film.
There are moments of sublime beauty that remind me of Scorsese and Tarantino, but directly proportional to their tonal temperature. As those guys can shoot a cold and funny murder, Dolan can shoot a warm and touching moment with no forced sentimentality whatsoever – and that is hard. And, at one hour and seventeen minutes into this film, he executes a stylistic manoeuvre you’ve never seen, you’d never expect, and which blows your mind as it rips your heart wide open.
It it also possibly the first movie to seriously look at how ADHD truly affects those that have to deal with it; indeed, possibly the first movie to take ADHD seriously as a subject. There are shades of characterisation in this film so delicate and sublime they make you want to weep. I teared up for the first time – for how much humanity was on display – at the one hour and five minute mark. But then I laughed for a long period, before the drama hit me again.
It’s that kind of movie – it stings like life. Scenes like that in the karaoke bar are mini-masterpieces. Anne Dorval, as Die (the mommy), is unbelievably good, but Antoine-Olivier Pilon, as her very troubled son, holds his own (and many scenes are between the two of them and no-one else).
The film is exquisitely photographed (André Turpin, cinematographer), which is all the more astonishing considering that it’s shot in 1:1, an aspect ratio I’ll warrant you’ve never seen in a cinema. Dolan often uses slow motion in a beautiful, tasteful way, and the music is gorgeous and present. There are moments of torrential sadness, but that doesn’t mean the film’s a bummer – it’s the opposite. Mommy is a film about love and compassion, and it is wonderful. See it.