Loving people doesn’t save them.
Widow Diane Després (Anne Dorval), has been struggling financially and emotionally since the death of her husband 3 years before. Her teenage son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), suffers from ADHD and began acting out violently after his father died. His behavior was bad enough, that Diane had to institutionalize him. But after Steve sets fire to the building, he is returned into the custody of his mother. Unable to both watch her son and maintain her job, Diane enlists the help of Kyla (Suzanne Clément), an odd-bird neighbor, and former teacher to tutor Steve. Through all the difficulties of their own lives, these three broken souls manage to form a fragile bond of friendship.
The French/Canadian drama Mommy, is a hard-hitting look at the difficulties of Diane, a loving mother trying to deal with her growing son, and his ever worsening behavioral problems. Diane has little in the way of options after Steve is expelled from the institution; she can either send him to a juvenile detention facility, or utilize a new law that allows a parent to have their child committed without any additional court review. She may have to turn to these options as her son grows older and stronger, becoming a greater danger to himself and to Diane; but she believes they can make it work.
Xavier Dolan is an actor, and the writer/director of Mommy. He uses an unusual, but brilliant technique to give the viewer some idea of what Steve and Diane’s lives must feel like. Instead of the film opening up in the wide screen format listed on the DVD jacket, Dolan utilizes the portrait effect that has become the habit of some people shooting videos from their phones. Yes it’s quite annoying when watching a YouTube video, in Mommy however, it works wonderfully, and shows the suffocated, and boxed in world that mother and son reside in. Dolan’s use of this technique is subtle, a feeling actually overtakes you even before the eyes notice the change. During the short intervals of happiness the characters experience, the film slowly spreads out to its full 1.78:1 widescreen presentation.
The subplot involving Kyla, the awkward neighbor struggling with some difficulties of her own, adds a layer to Mommy that takes it beyond a complicated mother/son story. Kyla is closed off from the world, and she has shut out her partner, and their young daughter; both of whom would love more of Kyla’s involvement in their lives, but she is either unwilling or unable to give them what they need. Dolan uses cooler colors like blues and greys to show the characters dire situations. But in those rare moments of happiness, the color palette expands, using lighter hues, as well as brighter lighting to represent happier times.
Anne Dorval is magnificent as the 40 something mother trying to survive as she always has; using her good looks, and sharp wits to keep her head above water. She genuinely loves Steve, and only resorts to desperate measures in order to save him. Suzanne Clément is fantastic as Kyla, a woman who is struggling with troubles of her own. She is a shy an anxious person, who has difficulty speaking due to her stuttering —a condition brought on after a terrible event from past. Dolan never reveals what this event is, but it isn’t necessary. Clément shows through her performance all we need to know. Antoine-Olivier Pilon’s performance as the impulsive teen Steve, is spellbinding. He can be sweet and loving one moment, and on a dime turn into a profanity spewing monster, who is so angry at his mother that he nearly strangles her to death. Mommy is stark, and at times jarring; but Dolan’s script is worth every heartbreaking minute we spend with these three very damaged individuals.
Mommy is a 1.78:1 presentation brought to us by the lovely folks at Lions Gate. Dolan’s use of colors to show the mood of the scenes and his characters, is wonderful. The Dolby 5.1 audio of this French language film is dynamic; and for those of us who can’t speak French to save our lives, well, we get to enjoy the crisp and clear subtitles that are provided. The only extra included on the DVD, is an Ultra-Violet Digital copy, so you can watch Mommy at your leisure. And that is the best way to view this film, at a leisurely pace, taking in all that it has to offer.
Parenting is hard enough without the difficulties of a child with behavioral problems. Mommy does a fantastic job of showing us that love can be a powerful motivator, but unfortunately, it is not a magical remedy that can save a child hell-bent on destruction.
Mommy (DVD) 2014, Universal, 139 minutes, R (2015)
VIDEO: 1.78:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
SUBTITLES: English SDH, Spanish EXTRAS: Digital Ultra-Violet Copy ACCOMPLICES: IMDB