Mommy | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


A Canadian drama zeros in on troubled mother-son relationship

Anne Dorval and Antoine-Olivier Pilon
Anne Dorval and Antoine-Olivier Pilon

A troubled — and occasionally giddy — relationship between a harried single mom, her angry teenage son and a shy neighbor is the focus of Mommy, the latest drama from the young Canadian writer-director Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother).

In suburban Montreal, Die (Anne Dorval) brings 15-year-old Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) home from a juvenile psychiatric facility: He has ADHD and is prone to violent outbursts. Die vacillates between hectoring and coddling, while the burden of parenting someone so disruptive and dangerous becomes untenable. Then, Die and Steve find a friend in neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clément), who has some success taming Steve, before everything — naturally, with these damaged souls — blows up badly.

This is no inspirational, heart-warming Lifetime movie: The emotions are raw and ugly, and Dolan's characters careen from likable to infuriating and back again. Despite their predilection for self-sabotage, their survival instincts are admirable, and there is a twisted beauty particularly in the co-dependency between mother and son.

Dolan shoots in a unique aspect ratio that results in a nearly square screen image that is initially distracting. But late in the film, he switches to a wider format, and you can't help but admire the visual impact of the tight box to which he has confined his characters.