London Film Festival: Xavier Dolan's fifth film is a domestic drama that's raw, hilarious and crammed with character
Mommy deals with the complex issues of mental illness and domestic difficulties in a way that John Cassavetes would admire: by celebrating difference and not shrinking back or judging when things get ugly. After his taut thriller Tom at the Farm, French-Canadian writer-director Xavier Dolan returns to the fraught mother-son dynamic which formed the basis of his debut I Killed My Mother, this time with the mother character as the movie's main focus.
Regular collaborator Anne Dorval plays the fabulously gutsy Diane 'Die' Després, a woman struggling to cope with her ADHD-diagnosed teen Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), who's spinning out of control. Their relationship is tempestuous, marked by profanity and howlingly inappropriate, their crackling chemistry concerning for mother and son; yet they make for an endearing, frequently hilarious double-act and when they befriend their sensitive, tongue-tied neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément) a beautiful triumvirate is born.
Presented for the most part in the narrow, 1:1 aspect ratio Mommy proudly announces its focus on character and the format emulates Die's suffocating, high-stress existence. It also gives Dolan somewhere to go and when the film stretches out into widescreen (and contracts back) it has quite some impact. Under the scrutiny of endless close-ups and minimal peripheral distractions the cast excel. Dorval is astonishing: admirable in her grit and courage, and heartbreaking in her pain. She's matched stride for stride by the expressive Pilon, who shows remarkable charisma, exuberance and comic-timing, with Clément providing a cute counterpoint to this untamed pair.
The unashamedly sentimental soundtrack shows Dolan's huge affection for these chaotic, imperfect people, who live life to the full and on the edge. He directs with energy, imagination and superb attention to detail and delivers a sparky and insightful script. Dolan's previous four films established him as an original and exciting voice. With the wildly funny, emotionally messy and wholly wonderful Mommy the filmmaker steps into the big league – aged just 25.
Screening on Thu 16 Oct and Sun 19 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2014. General release Fri 20 Mar.