‘Mommy’: cinematic portrait of domestic train wreck

Tom Long
The Detroit News

“Mommy” is a shockingly honest, nerve-wracking and dazzling piece of cinema. If this doesn’t rattle your soul, you don’t have one.

Not that anything momentous is going on. It’s just that 25-year-old French-Canadian writer-director Xavier Dolan has an uncanny ability to capture the raw messiness of life and project it onto a screen with both flair and precision. Nervous energy, ecstatic daydreaming, ugly, fierce confrontation — he brings it all, no apologies and none needed.

Meet Diane “Die” Despres (Anne Dorval, showing stunning range), a down-on-her-luck widow with sass aplenty. Gum-chewing, chain-smoking, tattooed and consistently unlucky, her car gets wrecked in the film’s opening scene; later a bag of groceries simply falls apart in her hands as she’s walking down the street. It’s that kind of life.

Factoring heavily into that bad luck is her teenage son, Steve (the explosive Antoine-Olivier Pilon) — a jumble of inappropriate behavior, violent reactions and constant resentment. As the film begins, Die is collecting Steve from a detention center where he has just set a fellow inmate on fire and left him seriously burned.

Now Steve has to move in with Die. Within a day he’s caused her to lose her job, insulted a neighbor and choked her near to death.

Then a calming influence appears, a shy neighbor from across the street, Kyla (Suzanne Clement). Kyla is so damaged that she can barely speak to her husband or daughter, but she makes some sort of wounded connection with Die and Steve.

Together, they become an odd alliance and Steve begins to straighten out. But his history, and Die’s bad luck, will not go away.

The exchanges here are alternately volatile, warm, wary and destructive. Eventually Die finds herself stretched beyond repair and desperate. She wants to do what’s best for Steve — but really, what’s best for Steve?

“Mommy” has no easy answers because there are none. But the way Dolan brings this domestic train wreck to life — he even shifts the size of the screen to wondrous effect — is as impressive as it is depressing. “Mommy” hurts so good.





Rated R for language throughout, sexual references and some violence

Running time: 139 minutes

“Mommy” (R ) A widowed mother (Anne Dorval) tries to rein in her volatile and violent teen son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) in this nerve-shattering piece of cinema from 25-year-old writer-director Xavier Dolan. (139 minutes) GRADE: A