Daily | Cannes 2014 | Xavier Dolan’s MOMMY



“Let’s hear it for Xavier Dolan,” begins Guy Lodge at In Contention, adding that “not many auteurs have built up such a body of work by the age of 25 that the first and least arguable adjective that can be applied to his latest is ‘characteristic.’ … Last year, he made his best film to date in Tom at the Farm, a lean, razor-cut noir of queer desire and denial that seemed less personal at first glance (it was his first film adapted from another writer’s material), only to articulate his sexuality in nervy, exciting ways. With Mommy, he reverts to the florid excess of 2012’s three-hour transgender relationship study Laurence Anyways, piling on the delirious stylistic affectations in this 140-minute three-hander to dazzling but exhausting effect: the precious aspect-ratio shifts, the saturated filters, the emotive oceans of pop music, the whirling dervishes of autumn foliage streaking the screen. If Dolan’s last film suggested he’d got these mannerisms out of his system, his new one counters that the mannerisms are his system.”

“In a somnolent Cannes season of too many disappointments from major directors and a tepid level of ambition, Mommy is precisely the electroshock jolt the festival needed,” writes Time‘s Richard Corliss. “Like Blue Is the Warmest Color, which pleasurably startled audiences on its way to winning the Palme d’Or, Dolan’s film is intimate, emotionally choleric, sensational and a bit loo long (at 2 hours and 20 minutes). But its excesses are part of, at the heart of, its appeal. Beginning with a car crash and accelerating from there, Mommy administers primal therapy to its viewers and perhaps to Dolan himself.”

Variety‘s Peter Debruge suggests that if Dolan’s debut, I Killed My Mother, “served as the petulant revenge of a misunderstood son upon the single mom who raised him, then his unexpectedly self-effacing fifth feature, Mommy, acknowledges that perhaps the lack of understanding went both ways. This time, the offscreen director puts himself in his mom’s shoes, casting Anne Dorval once again as a strong, independent woman overwhelmed with the task of caring for a teenage tyrant. It’s uncanny how much Dolan’s style and overall solipsism have evolved in five years’ time, resulting in a funny, heartbreaking and, above all, original work—right down to its unusual 1:1 aspect ratio—that feels derivative of no one, not even himself.”

“And as he grows older, his fixation on close mother-son relationships grows slightly queasier, though judging from reactions, I’m something of an outlier in finding Mommy an irritating sit,” writes Ben Kenigsberg at “Set in 2015, Mommy opens with a mild sci-fi feel. Title cards announce that a change to Canadian health law will allow parents to give up troubled children to the state. That’s about the end of the future-is-now vibe. Mommy introduces us to one such troubled teen, Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon); his single mother, Diane, whom he nicknames ‘Die’ (Anne Dorval); and a neighborhood teacher, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), who becomes part of their lives. They fight, eat, shop, take tentative steps toward mutual understanding, and dance to interminable musical interludes.”

“The film isn’t exactly a character study, but neither is it a satisfying narrative,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve. “Mostly, it’s just a showcase for its two marvelous actresses, acting in diametrically opposed registers: Dorval makes Die one of those people about whom the phrase ‘force of nature’ is employed because ‘garish loudmouth’ seems too blunt, while Clément locates hidden reserves of fiery passion beneath a hilariously mousy exterior. Dolan still seems to identify most strongly with his alter ego, though, and he lets Pilon’s perpetually cranked-up-to-11 performance set Mommy’s tone.”

“The trailer-trash humor is superbly transgressive,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, “but then evolves into something else: an involving, heartfelt story. You might expect the narrative to develop in sexual ways, and so it does, but not in a predictable style. All three actors give it everything they’ve got, which is a great deal. These performances are arguably too broad occasionally with a touch of daytime soap. But it is a pleasure to see acting—and directing—which is blasting away on all the emotional cylinders. Full strength, but under control. It is another notable triumph for Dolan. Prodigies don’t get much more prodigious than this.”

At the Playlist, Jessica Kiang admires “the kind of directorial tics and tricks that would in most other contexts be loathsome,” from the unique aspect ratio “that makes close ups of faces look like beautifully composed passport photos, to the engineered, artificial and awesome use of slo mo and montage, to the soundtrack, which is an extraordinary example of making audience members’ hearts sing through the careful application of wuss rock and MOR Mom music [and] time and again we were left a little winded at the sheer degree of (well-earned) directorial confidence on display.”

“Mostly, however, these elements just distract from the failures of storytelling, and how Dolan seems to be delaying the inevitable conclusion,” argues A.A. Dowd at the AV Club. “Also, Pilon is seriously, counterproductively irritating in his role. Or maybe it’s just the role itself, which requires the actor to be constantly yelling, cursing, threatening, cackling, insulting, or pouting. He’s less enfant terrible than just roundly, generally terrible.”

“At over two hours, Mommy could benefit from a shorter cut, like all of Dolan’s self-edited films,” suggests Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter. “Even so, he keeps this story engrossing, surprising and emotionally pungent.” And this is “Dolan’s warmest, most humane and least narcissistic film to date.”

Allan Hunter in Screen Daily on the aspect ratio: “Initially, it feels as if we are losing vital visual information outside of the frame but quickly succeeds in creating a greater sense of intimacy.”

“For years Dolan has been ‘one to watch,’ a young man of great promise,” writes John Bleasdale at CineVue. “With Mommy, that promise has been fully realized.”

Mommy occasionally distracts from its strengths with excessive technique,” suggests Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, “but in this case, the story begs for it, revolving as it does around a young man suffering from a lack of restraint.”

With Mommy, Dolan “solidifies himself in the pantheon of great directors,” announces Jason Gorber at Twitch. “It may sound hyperbolic, but the film features an explosive freshness, a delicate balance between humor and tragedy that’s simply intoxicating.”

“It might be the most gloriously obnoxious movie to screen so far,” suggests Wesley Morris at Grantland. And “like Douglas Sirk, Rainer Fassbinder, and Pedro Almodóvar before him, Dolan has the talent and sensitivity to wed cinema to neurotic exaggeration…. On the same day, Cannes managed to screen the film by the youngest director in the competition (Dolan) and the oldest (Godard). It’s funny. Both feel like the future.”

Update: “The movie’s first half is the most dazzling hour or so of filmmaking I’ve seen at this year’s festival,” writes Jon Frosch for the Atlantic. “The second half of Mommy is flabbier and less sure-footed, with some clunky plotting and several sequences (particularly a date-from-hell at a karaoke bar) that feel overly protracted. But if a lack of discipline remains Dolan’s weakness as a director, it is also precisely what gives his movies such tempestuous power.”

Update, 5/23: Pilon is a “small blonde boy acting with the ferocity of a feral beast,” writes Sophie Monks Kaufman at Little White Lies. “Dorval’s complex performance as the mother in the middle is a source of constant wonder…. Clément is charming but her arc is underdeveloped.” Still, “even with certain elements left to puzzle over, Dolan’s fifth feature is a sophisticated and sincere celebration of motherhood. Once he killed his mother. Now he has made her live forever.”

Update, 5/25: Mommy has tied with Godard‘s Goodbye to Language for the Jury Prize. Peter Labuza can’t be too pleased, having written at the Film Stage about the film’s “complete lack of narrative structure. A tender moment, often accompanied by something from a ’90s mix tape (Counting Crows, Eiffel 65, Dido, Oasis), is interrupted by a sudden moment of anger and yelling, only to calm down a few minutes later, only to start back up with a sudden cut to a new scene. It’s not that Dolan has no sense of melodrama—it’s that he has no sense for using it as a structural device to carry us anywhere. Individual scenes may wield their power, but there’s zero sense that they build on one another, or even that we are gaining psychological insight through any single fight.”

Update, 1/10: “It’s difficult not to get a little irritated by Xavier Dolan,” writes Joumane Chahine for Film Comment. “Barely 25, with five films already under his belt and a Cannes Jury Prize last year shared with Godard, the hyperactive, immodest, and prodigiously talented French-Canadian filmmaker can be exasperating. It is even harder, though, not to be dazzled by his precociousness, his ravenous energy, and the emotional intensity of his work.”

Update, 1/15: “Dolan doesn’t seem to notice that his three main characters remain as sketchy as when they first appeared,” writes Dan Callahan for the L. “Nothing deepens here and nothing builds, and the ending feels like the most obvious kind of adolescent ‘Nobody understands me!’ screeching.”

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