– by David Morgan-Brown
Despite the cute title and poster, Mommy is a rough and tough film that’s more eye-opening and heart-piercing than it is enjoyable. It’s filled to the brim with heightened tension and emotional hysteria, though thankfully these scenes of domestic dysfunction are often followed by scenes of family comfort that quench this intensity.
You can just about get an idea of how harsh this film is from its character-centric story. Diane, or “Die” (Anne Dorval), is a widowed mother of an institutionalised teenage son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), who has been dismissed from his hospital for causing a fire that injured another young patient, and he is finding great difficulty adjusting into the world he has been thrown back into. As aggravating and unruly as he is and as much as he upsets his patient and trying mother, their bond is strong and they are absolutely committed to each other (maybe a bit too much). To make all things a bit easier in their difficult circumstances is the across-the-road neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clement) whose timid persona begins to be cracked and penetrated by the ferocity of Die and Steve’s home-life.
This opens up a whole new part of life for each of these three characters, Die and Steve forcing themselves upon the reluctant Kyla who begins to open up as she brings a little peace and stability in the household. The acting from these three is so immense it puts to shame most English-language acting that eat up every Best Acting award. The interaction with this trio is so unique to this film itself and because of how great the acting and writing is, the film doesn’t need much time to rope in any audience members willing to go along and empathise with this relationship of beauty, growth, and emotional chaos.
All this is emphasised further by the constrained appearance of the film, which may look peculiar at first due to its 1:1 aspect ratio (despite the perfect square it creates, it still gives the illusion that it’s higher than it is wide), but it’s amazing how little this is distracting and how engaging it is, giving the film a portrait appearance as opposed to a landscape one, and the payoff this unusual cinematography gives is well worth it.
The explosive emotions and troublesome situations in Mommy make it hardly a relaxing film, but it is dealing seriously and authentically with a tragic issue and shows us both extremes of the lightness and darkness of it. There’s still a juvenility here and there, with some scenes being so revelatory, yet end up going nowhere. But for most of its running time, Mommy is an incredible film that goes into the depths of motherhood and boyhood, putting these characters in the most volatile circumstances, ending up with some stunning results.
Mommy plays as part of the Perth International Arts Festival at Somerville, UWA from 6-12 April.