Die (Dorval), a feisty, widowed single mother, is forced to take care of her troubled son Steve (Pilon) after he is ejected from a state care facility. Things look up when introverted neighbour Kyla (Clément) starts to home-school the youngster.
If you are bemoaning the lack of great lead performances by women, look no further than Mommy. Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s film is built on not one but two stellar turns from Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clément that blow any of this year’s nominations out of the water. Along with the teenage Antoine-Olivier Pilon, they deliver 139 minutes of blistering drama that is funny, tragic and electric.
The high-pitched fervour is set from the get-go. On her way to pick up her troubled teenage son from a care facility, single mum Die gets into a car crash, and a blazing row. From then on, Dolan mounts unpredictable scene after unpredictable scene that skirt dangerously close to melodrama but always feel raw and real.
If Mommy was just about dramatic blood and thunder it would be enough. But the precocious 25 year-old Dolan imbues it with filmmaking pyrotechnics that are as striking as they are smart. Most obvious is his decision to shoot his film in a 1:1 aspect ratio, pillarboxing his square image with black bars on either side. Initially distracting, it forces you directly into the centre of action, sharpening the intimacy and intensity.
As the ADHD Steve, Pilon is by turns angelic and devilish, and Kyla (Clément) is superb as the insecure neighbour who makes a connection with him. It is to their credit they register at all in the face of Dorval’s dervish of a lead character. Die is ballsy white trash and Dorval’s non-judgemental, tour de force performance makes her struggles compelling, and her difficult decisions unbearably moving. You simply cannot take your eyes off her for a second.
Dolan has previously been accused of style over substance but here he draws both magnificently together. Its perhaps a little too long, but Mommy is a movie to make you feel alive.