Mommy is so good, it manages to turn a shot of Febreze spray hiding the odor of cigarette smoke into some of the most compelling cinematic imagery I’ve seen in weeks. Writer/director Xaxier Dolan presents a vision of near-future Canada, where a new law allows parents to commit their children to psychiatric detention centers with no questions asked. This new law lingers over the story of a widowed mother, named Die (Anne Dorval), struggling to cope with the violent behavior of her severely mentally ill son.
When we meet Die, her teenage son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), has just been kicked out of a low-level detention center for burning another boy alive. Shortly after moving back home, Steve falls into his usual cycle of violent episodes. Mommy is a film that never hides where it’s going. Steve probably can’t be helped, and all Die can do is provide him with a comfortable life until his illness reaches a tipping point. It sounds super depressing, but Mommy is actually an energetic, intimate epic that never loses steam for its 139 minutes—which is just insanely impressive.
Although Die Antwoord is raising robot Sharlto Copley halfway around the world in Chappie, Die and Steve are absolutely the oddest on-screen duo of the weekend. I’m reluctant to spoil details of their relationship lest I ruin the best surprise in the movie, so you’ll have to trust me. While Mommy is never weak, it is undeniably strongest before the introduction of Die’s caring neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clement). Kyla quickly becomes a buffer between Die and Steve, calming the film down without necessarily slowing it. She brings a welcome layer of sweetness, much needed because the first half in which Die and Steve are left alone to spar is totally unhinged.
I was introduced to Xavier Dolan through Mommy. Apparently, he’s quite good. Mommy is shown almost entirely in a jarring 1:1 ratio, and the soundtrack is made up of late 90s pop songs that we’re still sick of. Occasionally, the frame expands to full-screen images, representing Die’s enduring hope for Steve’s possibility of a normal future. Refreshingly, none of it ever feels gimmicky. Mommy is a stylish movie that never falls into the trap of being an exercise in style. Dolan is skilled enough to craft an intense, original story about mental illness that always feels honest.
I can’t stress enough that you go in blind. Watching the trailers won’t do you any favors anyway: They seem melodramatic when viewed out of context. Mommy is a film about a mother-and-son duo that takes time to be fleshed out and realized, and a trailer can’t do that. It’s unique ratio demands a theater experience, and the relationship it follows is so big it should have no trouble filling a twenty-foot-tall screen.
It’s a no-brainer that Mommy gets an A+, as it’s one of the best films of its kind.
Grade = A+