Saturday, January 31, 2015

Movie Review: Mommy

It's NOT OK, Mommy.
Canada's Best Foreign Language entry (it's in French with English subtitles) for the 2014 Academy Awards is a heartbreaking, dizzying and unforgettable masterpiece from 25-year-old wunderkind Xavier Dolan.
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All parents have hopes and dreams for their kids. But there comes a point in time when the writing would appear to be on the wall for any particular child—when past behavior is a pretty good indicator of what's to come in the future.

However, Diane "Die" Després (Anne Dorval) refuses to give up on her troubled teenage son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon). Steve suffers from a host of behavioral and attachment issues and has just been kicked out of another juvenile home after setting a fire that gravely injured someone. He's exuberant one minute, sulking the next. He can appear to not have a care in the world seconds before flying into a violent rage. He comes close to nearly strangling Die; she must fight back with equal brutality in order to escape. But she loves him unconditionally and will not consider taking advantage of alternate-present-Canada's new law that encourages parents to let the state institutionalize uncontrollable children. Die is her own special brand of fiery badass, and she's going to find a way to make it work.

But she's also a woman who realizes her limitations. She's broke, her husband passed away three years ago, and she can't put Steve in a normal school. She still needs to pay the bills while ensuring that her son stays out of trouble during the day. This is why she turns to Kyla (Suzanne Clément), her quiet, slightly mysterious neighbor across the street. Kyla's a teacher who's currently not working because of a recent breakdown that left her with a fierce stutter and inability to speak at times. There are hints as to what tragedy might have brought on Kyla's condition; I loved how writer/director Xavier Dolan didn't feel the need to spell it out for his audience.
The best of times...
And so, for a while, this unusual threesome gets by and even establishes some semblance of normalcy. Die finds odd jobs around town, Kyla home-schools Steve, Steve stabilizes, they're all the best of friends. Pilon, Dorval and Clément are so incredible in their roles, I have to admit that there were several times I actually forgot they were acting or that I wasn't watching some sort of reality-filmmaking project. Especially Pilon. To be that young and be able to convey such a wide range of tortuous emotions is just beyond anything I've ever witnessed before. I developed a strong love/hate/but-mostly-hate relationship with his character, which is probably exactly what Dolan was hoping to achieve. So when the claustrophobic box-frame that Dolan filmed the majority of the movie in suddenly opens up, seemingly at Steve's command, my heart sang at the triumph. It was one of the coolest moments I've experienced in a theater in over a year.

Those happy times were short-lived, though, because Steve's problems aren't ones that will simply go away because of a caring tutor or an ever-patient mother or a bike or a job or anything else. He's soon wreaking havoc again on everything and everyone. But is there still hope for him? There is, in Die's mind. While the ratio-widening scene sent me soaring, a later dream sequence where Die envisions a happy future for Steve just about destroyed me. I have nothing in common with Die except that I'm also somebody's "mommy," and I want the world for my son. To watch Die come to terms with the fact that her love is simply not enough to be able to protect her only child is just shattering in its truth.

I have never seen anything like Mommy. It's an emotional rollercoaster. It's hard to watch, asks tough questions and provides no easy answers. Please don't miss it.

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