10 years in the making


If you’ve been waiting for a great film with two fantastic female leads then Xavier Dolan’s Mommy is the one to see.
On one side of a street in suburban Quebec lives Die (Anne Dorval), the loud, brash single mother of a son with severe ADHD. On the other side is Kyla (Suzanne Clement) who lives quietly with her husband and young daughter. Die’s home is an emotional mess of shouting, crashing, loud music and foulmouthed language. Kyla’s home is almost monastic in its silence, order and lack of any emotion. It seems that grief has touched both homes, but in very different ways.
At the centre of the story is Die’s son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), sometimes angelic and sometimes abusive sexist and racist monster who is prone to wild eruptions of terrifying violence. Die leaves you frustrated at the inappropriate ways she tries to deal with him, but the love between them shines through and you can’t help but admire her courage. Different rules apply in this household, everything is in excess, nothing is predictable and anything could happen. What happens and what’s said is often really funny, but often very painful, and you feel nothing but sympathy for the decisions she makes, even the wrong ones.
Kyla’s the opposite of Die, calm and restrained – although clearly no pushover – and she manages to get through to Steve and help him settle. There are some unforgettable scenes between the two women, not least their uncontrollable laughter after one evening with some bottles of wine. The acting from all three leads is really impressive. In the final scenes, Dorval is able to distort her face as if pain was a physical being invading her body.
Their lives are compressed by circumstance and this is reflected in the unusual 1:1 aspect ration photography (which appears as portrait) which some critics have called gimmicky. Any disadvantages are outweighed by the moment when Steve, recklessly sprinting down the middle of the street with a shopping trolley, pushes back the edges of the screen and opens it up temporarily to wide vision shouting ‘I’m free’. The effect is exhilarating.
In fact, watching the film your emotions veer wildly from sympathy, frustration and laughter to sadness and fear, swept along by the fittingly discordant soundtrack featuring Celine Dion, Oasis and Dido. It really is a film that shouldn’t be missed.