“Loving people doesn’t save them”: grave words bestowed upon the titular Mommy by a nurse at the boys’ home where son Steve has just set fire to a fellow juvenile jailbird. Diane ‘Die’ Després (played with aplomb by Dorval) is no “mommy” pushover: widowed, economically struggling and dealing with a son with extreme violent tendencies, she fights every inch of the way. She’s just picked her son up from the boys’ institution, shown him their new home and must now deal with the loss of her job. Obvious Oedipal overtones, both sexual and murderous, lurk in insular domestic spaces, shot in a narrower than 4:3 ratio for a greater portion of the film. But the mother-son world opens up when neighbour Kyla enters their lives: a woman thankful for the distraction that Die and Steve offer. Shifting to widescreen lensing at crucial moments, Dolan bypasses gimmicky camera work to create unconventional demonstrations of emotional frailty, examining the limitations of love primarily through the eyes of his characters. And if maternal love does fall short, it’s not on the basis of facile decisions. Breaking free may be inevitable: in Dolan’s hands it’s also arduous, moving, heartbreaking and courageous.
Mommy | Directed by Xavier Dolan (Canada 2014) with Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément. Starts November 13
Originally published in issue #132, November 2014.