Rated: R for language throughout, sexual references and some violence. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: January 23, 2015 Released by: Roadside Attractions
Troubling, heartbreaking, but always filled with honest, audacious humanity, Mommy (in French with English subtitles) is the fifth and pointed feature from adroit Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan that has a way in meshing the raucous with the wrenching. Which often vividly subverts audience expectations with exasperating strength to test the limits of sensitized familial conditioning.
It's mainly a three-handler with Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, and Suzanne Clement, with Patrick Huard (Starbuck) coming in next as a romantic legalese that some commentators have argued being accepted as one of the nominees of the Academy Arts and Sciences Best Foreign Language Feature.
Dolan inveigles his way through a pervading tawdry tone with instances of uproarious candor from examining a difficult relationship between a feisty, unconventional menial working mother Diane "Die" (Dorval) and her 15-year-old hotheaded ADHD son (Pilon) three years after losing her husband who's left behind a CD mix.
A near-future law helps in the set-up (maybe too convenient for narrative means) about relocating the violent Steve home after cafeteria arson instead of being incarcerated in a juvenile facility. A surprising, tempestuous closeness between them is evident from their reunion.
The very needy attention-seeker turns Die's milieu upside down though neighbors like Huard's Paul can help with issues in his domain; Clemente's more understated married with children Kyla is on leave after health issues but her anguish palpable through a stammer is ideal for Die to keep her professional standing while developing an abnormal bond with the enormous youthfully ardent Steve.
A never-better lippy Dorval has an electric, wry banter with her near-equal in a presumptuously wild Pilon; though aggressive in a different way Clement projects apprehensive compassion that makes for a rather thoughtful, intriguing triangle. Thematically, Dolan maintains a charged atmosphere through his latitude with the characters and execution of the material which will be too much for even some discerning on-lookers.
Yet, there's something piercing and meaningful throughout Mommy even if the proceedings rev up with segues probably needing more judicious handling right down to the overall trimming. Any minor indulgences are easily excused in this case when the filmmaking, cast and craft contributors (with a squared aspect ratio except in a couple of optimistic occasions and choice sounds of Celine Dion and Oasis, to name two) can turn the infuriating and mystifying into vigorously heartfelt cinematic vitality.