Directed by Xavier Dolan
Opens January 23
Canadian directorial wunderkind Xavier Dolan started out small and personal with his first two excellent movies, I Killed My Mother (2009) and Heartbeats (2010), but he signaled his ambition with Laurence Anyways (2012), a 168-minute epic that followed the travails of a male-to-female transsexual and her female lover. That movie was missing Dolan’s own clarifying presence as an actor, and for all its length Laurence Anyways seemed to have scenes missing, as if Dolan kept following his rococo visual impulses but couldn’t keep clear focus on the central relationship. And that problem has only intensified in Mommy, which runs 139 minutes but only deals with three main characters, none of them in depth.
Diane “Die” Després (Anne Dorval) is a foul-mouthed and tacky middle-aged woman with a blond problem child named Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), who visually suggests Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone (1990) as a teenager (in one of the film’s occasional inspirations, Steve even slaps his hands to his face and screams like Culkin famously did in that movie). Steve is violent, racist, and out-of-control, and Diane is so out-of-control herself that we watch them clash in scene after scene of forced hysteria, which brings out a kind of Andrzej Zulawski-lite vibe only mediated by a third character, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a neighbor whose reasons for moving into their lives remains frustratingly opaque.
Dolan shoots Mommy in a boxed 1:1 aspect ratio most of the time, though he sometimes has a character push the sides out before it closes back down to 1:1. Toying around with irritating effects like this, Dolan doesn’t seem to notice that his three main characters remain as sketchy as when they first appeared. Nothing deepens here and nothing builds, and the ending feels like the most obvious kind of adolescent “Nobody understands me!” screeching. The warm but unshowy Dorval is unable to complicate her one-dimensional character or sustain so many fight scenes in a row. If Dolan wants to continue at this high pitch and pace, he should write an Altman-esque ensemble movie where characters don’t necessarily need to be three-dimensional.