Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mommy Review

I remember when I was a kid and I would watch professional sports or television or movies and I would see people in their 20's and think they were old. Not old in a geriatric sense or anything, I was a kid but I wasn't that much of a turd. I just thought they seemed so big in both a literal and figurative sense. I would watch the Oscars and admire the sea of beautiful people all wearing beautiful things, and everything felt so glamorous and mature and complete. I would go to a Cubs game and realize all those tiny people on a television screen were actually enormous, and as a ball would sail out onto Waveland it seemed like it was hit by a god rather than a mortal man. 

I imagined what it would be like to be in my 20's and it seemed surreal that I ever would be. Now I'm 31 and I see the world through such a different set of eyes. Now I see those beautiful people wearing beautiful things and they seem so young, like they are only just getting started. I go to a Cubs game and I refer to the players as "kids" because a majority of them were born when I was already doing multiplication tables and pretending I didn't have a crush on the girl next to me at school. 

Now I'm old, but Xavier Dolan? He's young. He's so damn young and it's hard to comprehend his brilliance. It isn't just that he directed a terrific film at the age of 25, it's that he is now 26 and he already has five under his belt with a sixth in production and these aren't sloppy, flawed works pumped out by an immature mind. These are stories that are oozing with intelligence and grace and passion, the type of material I would expect from a man 30 years my senior rather than one that was born when I was in Kindergarten. 

I have seen three Dolan films thus far and to say I have been impressed is an understatement. His debut titled I Killed My Mother, which was released when he was only 20 years old, is such a passionate and raw autobiographical piece of cinema that I was floored a teen had crafted it with such a precise and confident hand. Three years later Dolan unveiled Laurence Anyways, a film that dealt with a man becoming a woman while trying to still maintain a relationship with her female lover and the transgender topic is handled with class and dignity and honesty. Now we have Mommy, his most recent work and it is also his strongest to date.

You need not do a single bit of research to determine that the story of Mommy about a troubled teenage son being raised by a widowed single mother is profoundly personal and important to Dolan. I know this because you can feel it in every frame. You can feel that this isn't just a film or a fictional story to him because the screenplay and the performances and the stylistic choices from Dolan as a filmmaker exhibit so much soul and emotion. I cannot relate even remotely to the plight of these characters as I have never gone through anything similar myself, yet the depth of their feelings and the pain they suffer through resonated with me, and that can be attributed to the absurd level of talent of the writer and director as he makes the pieces of a picture fit so perfectly together.

Mommy is so good and so ambitious, and while the 1:1 aspect ratio can be jarring to look at initially, the fact that it actually serves a narrative purpose fascinated me. When the frame feels so narrow and constrictive, it is more than just visual trickery. It actually manipulated the tone and mood of the entire picture, making everything feel claustrophobic and troubling. When Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) and his mother Diane (Anne Dorval) are fighting in such a tiny frame you can feel the emotional weight and struggle of the situation, but then suddenly Steve will feel the joy of freedom and actual happiness and the frame widens before our eyes and we feel free with him. We as viewers can practically feel the burden of their circumstances lift off our shoulders, even if the relief is temporary.

Perhaps I unfairly hold Dolan now to a higher standard because it is obvious he has the gift one needs to craft profoundly brilliant cinema, but despite the greatness of his work I still think he is falling just a hair short of his masterpiece. It's coming though. It's going to happen, and when it does we won't know what hit us. Mommy comes really, really close. It's a wonderful movie.


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