Combustible Celluloid
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With: Anne Dorval, Antoine Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément, Patrick Huard, Alexandre Goyette, Michèle Lituac, Viviane Pacal, Nathalie Hamel-Roy
Written by: Xavier Dolan
Directed by: Xavier Dolan
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual references and some violence
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 139
Date: 01/23/2015

Mommy (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Duel in the Son

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Xavier Dolan's Mommy is a movie of little moments and big feelings. Dolan presents the movie mostly in a squarish aspect ratio, wherein his three main characters talk and interact, but occasionally, emotions become too big for the frame. In one remarkable, euphoric moment, a character literally spreads the frame open wide with his hands.

Anne Dorval stars as the title "mommy," Diane, though she goes by "Die." She's a widow and singlehandedly raising a loving, but explosive son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon). Their dynamic is fascinating. Diane looks to be about mid-forties (in reality, Doval is mid-fifties), and presents herself a sexual being, with long, wild hair, tight clothes, and sexy shoes. She's not exactly a disciplinarian, and does whatever in front of her son, swears, smokes, flirts with men, and gets drunk. But she clearly loves Steve, and he is the center of her world.

Despite his outbursts of violence and his impulsive criminal activities, Steve can be extremely charming and commanding. When he enters the room, he owns it. He moves like an animal, a hunter or a dancer. He demands that you watch him, and we do, partly because he warrants it, and partly because he can suddenly turn on a dime into a fit of rage or pain. We're both fascinated and wary.

These two outcasts move into a new place and get a new neighbor, the quiet schoolteacher Kyla (Suzanne Clément), who has a speech impediment. Mother and son eventually muscle their way into Kyla's life, and Kyla reluctantly becomes Steve's home-school teacher. This arrangement begins badly with a brutally inappropriate incident, which causes Kyla to break out of her shell. From then on, she's hooked on the wild, unchecked emotions of this house, a direct contrast to the boring, staid conditions of her own home.

Dolan's verite style changes again toward the conclusion, as it enters Diane's fantasy sequence, her dreams of the future, which seem both ideal and impossible. Dolan's entire movie embraces this kind of dual existence, admitting that life is a mashup of wisdom and innocence, elation and boredom, love and pain. We humans can wiggle around between these things, striving for love, struggling to squelch pain. It takes a special kind of filmmaker to stay in touch with these emotional concepts without arranging them in logical blocks. Mommy is a howl of life.

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