PFF23: Mommy (Xavier Dolan, CAN)

In returning to his subjective roots, Xavier Dolan’s latest focuses on a single mother’s reacquisition of her wayward teenage son following the latter’s expulsion from a detention facility. Left with zero alternatives, one Diane ‘Die’ Després (Anne Dorval) struggles to coexist with her emotionally unstable son amid hardships of her own. As stress mounts within the increasingly dysfunctional Després household, along comes the pair’s soft-spoken neighbor to unknowingly usher in a familial epiphany.

As an opening several-minute exchange very frankly sets the stage for Dolan’s most accessible feature to date, Mommy remains a bit of an odd duck by way of narrative and tone, what with sensationalist tendencies lacing the film’s stab at dynamic human drama. Given young Steve’s frighteningly unpredictable vitriol, the film’s sense of humor is surprisingly as effective as conflict is unflinching, however the tonal shifts procured by these moments are as subtle as a meteor shower. While agreeably affecting in terms of scope, it’s hard to deny the film’s oppressively cloying sensibilities as certain situations ring a bit too over-the-top and on-the-nose regarding its themes.

Regarding Dolan’s now-trademark technical proficiency, it’s safe to say that the man certainly knows how to work a camera and an audience. It’s hard to deny how ballsy an employed aspect ratio flip-flop is and, although cheesy in the grand scheme, the soundtrack choices and often-accompanying slow-motion shots manage to evoke more sympathy than disinterest. Some may roll their eyes at the unveiling of the former during a key narrative catharsis, however Mommy‘s intentions are abundantly clear and confident throughout an outrageous 140-minute run time.

It’s not that I openly disliked Mommy on the basis of its simplicity. In fact, I applaud Dolan for producing something this (presumably) personal and throwing thematic familiarity to the wind, it’s just a shame that the proceedings are so… loud. Regarding emotionality in this sense, the film more or less succeeds as light and dark are illustrated in equal measure, what with a fictional wraparound amendment to the Canadian constitution keeping viewers in limbo regarding eventual resolution. It’s a story about a tenuous bond struggling to survive amid hardship after hardship that’s bolstered by Dolan’s singular capabilities as a filmmaker, plain and simple.

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