You’ve been back 24 hours and this place is a slum! Tidy the hell up!
Back in the early days of this site I stumbled across the films of a Canadian director by the name of Xavier Dolan. Tom à la ferme and J’ai tué ma mère were two of my favourite films that I saw in 2014, they were exceptional, character driven masterpieces that I gave them arguably the best reviews I’ve given on this site. “Tom à la ferme” was an engrossing story of Stockholm Syndrome, whereas “J’ai tué ma mère” gripped you with it’s simple and yet very deep
I loved them. I was less impressed with Laurence Anyways but from the trio of reviews, I still walked away from them with Dolan being one of my favourite new directors and I would jumped at the chance to see any film with him in, and that chance came along when one of my friends had bought “Mommy” and invited me around to her house to watch it.
Now, there are many reasons why I didn’t particularly like Laurence Anyways and I’m not going to lie, when I saw that this film lasted a massive 138 minutes, I became less enthusiastic as the running time was one of the issues with the aforementioned, however, I can’t just one film from a director based on one of their other films, so I just went with it.
Die (Dorval)’s day is already going badly when she is involved in a car accident, but it soon goes to the next level when she receives a phone call from the boarding school where her son Steve (Pilon) is and they tell her that he is being evicted. It emerges that Steve had actually set the kitchen on fire, severely injuring another user of the school. Steve has a hyperactivity disorder that makes it exceptionally difficult for him to interact normally in society and all of the local schools refuse him.
A heated argument between Die and Steve turns violent, with the latter getting injured when a shelf falls on him. Die hides in a cupboard for several hours, emerging to find her neighbour Kyla (Clement) treating his wounds. Die is sacked from her job but can’t take up a new role due to Steve being subject to a court order that would see him sent to a mental hospital if he is not supervised 24/7. Kyla steps in and agrees to teach him, although she is uneasy with Steve’s behaviour, including purposefully fondling his mother’s breasts.
As time goes on Kyla does start integrating with the family but a letter to Die from the family of the boy that Steve injured changes everything as they announce their intention to sue. Die tries to find a solution, but Steve’s behaviour, including threatening to kill someone who mocks his singing and a suicide attempt, only alienates everyone that tries to help, including a lawyer who is attracted to Die, and eventually she reaches a breaking point.
So, does Dolan have another masterpiece on his hands?
I’m going to put this bluntly, no. I really wanted to like Mommy, I really did, but it’s just tedious in so many respects. The worst of this is the lengthy run time of 138 minutes, and there really isn’t enough content that’s worth watching to make the 138 fly by. It drags and it drags badly, it never seems to be reaching a conclusion and when 90 minutes has already gone, and there is still close on 50 minutes to go, you sort of start wanting to turn it off. Much like Laurence Anyways, this film could have really done with being considerably shorter, and 90 minutes would have been a nice length.
There is also a LOT of bad language in this film and it’s rarity to find a sentence in the first 30 minutes of the film that doesn’t contain at least one swear word. It’s just not needed. If you must insist on using swear words as a director, you really have to use it effectively and it has to feel natural. This film feels like it’s not using it for any purpose other than shock value and I’m not going to lie, I found the overuse of swear words to be quite immature from Dolan. Don’t get me wrong, I still do love Dolan, he has a very interesting way of making films, but again, if you’re going to use swearing in your films, make it effective and not just swearing for the sake of swearing.
The soundtrack is all over the place and whole songs go by with montages on the screen, but the issue is that the montages don’t really add anything and it seems almost like it’s just filler. The entire song of Wonderwall by Oasis, a song that lasts 4 minutes and 40 seconds, passes with nothing much happening other than Steve travelling from one point to another. There is so much of this film that is completely needless. Die has a daydream at one point about Steve getting married and them both celebrating at his wedding, but she hasn’t once during the entire film hinted that that is something that bothers her or not, and that also lasts for quite some time.
It is strange in many ways that there is so much filler because there are big opportunities for plot points that would have been more interesting than the filler. For example, when Steve first arrives in town he has a member of what looks like a hockey team staring at him in an inquisitive way and it would have been far more interesting to watching Steve’s interactions with those around the community rather than random daydreams or dancing for seemingly no purpose in the kitchen.
It’s not all negative though and the relationship between Steve and Die is quite unique and interesting to watch and you never know what you’re going to get going into the scene. There are scenes where you believe that they are perfectly happy but they end with an antagonistic argument, or indeed vice-versa. Their relationship is unpredictable and I like that because you never know what you’re going to get. It links in with Steve’s hyperactivity disorder, and the scene where they are in a physical fight is exceptional because you genuinely think that Steve could kill her.
I really enjoyed the character of Die as she is quite clearly someone who has gotten by on her looks in the past, so much to the point where she gets fired from her job because the new female boss won’t put up with her substandard work, unlike her previous boss that was mainly infatuated with her. That come down for the character happens early on and this only adds to the difficulties that she has because of Steve, mainly due to the financial difficulties of raising a son without a job, especially a son who spends the money without thinking of anyone else.
Steve is an interesting character in that respect and in many ways, he is arguably the most interesting character of all of Dolan’s characters. He could literally kill someone without a second thought and that is terrifying when you think about it. He is played exceptionally well by Pilon, especially in the scenes where the character is in pain and/or anger. There is a scene towards the end of the film where Steve realises that he has been tricked by Die and Kyla, and his reaction, one of anger, confusion and desperation feels exceptionally real, and that is a theme throughout all of Dolan’s films and he is exceptional at it. The emotion always feels real in Dolan’s films and he again achieves this.
One of the reasons I do like Dolan is that although he knows what works in many aspects, but he isn’t afraid to try something new and he uses an aspect ratio of 1:1 for the picture, in other words a perfect square. This brings an unusual visual aspect to the film as most films use either 4:3 or 16:9, but I’ve ever seen a 1:1 aspect ratio. It doesn’t distract from the film so it works relatively well, but it does severely limit what can be shown in the image. Add in the strong amber filters and you’ve got a relatively unique looking film.
I wanted to like this. I really wanted to like this, but I couldn’t. Whilst it’s not an awful film, it’s far, far, far too long and it doesn’t grab your attention for most of it. I found myself walking off for minutes at a time and coming back to find that they were still in the middle of the same conversation, and when you’re able to do that, it’s not a good thing at all.
Whilst Dolan does retain some of what made his other films largely enjoyable, out of his four films that I have seen so far this has been by far the least enjoyable.
The only way I would really recommend this is if you’re on a Xavier Dolan marathon.