Friday, January 23, 2015

Xavier Dolan and his continuing MOMMY problems come to the fore once more

Xavier Dolan, the French-Canadian boy-wonder is at it again. The currently 25-year-old writer/director -- I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats, Laurence Anyways (we haven't been theatrically graced yet with 2013's Tom at the Farm) -- is still having some trouble growing up. Hell, so do we all. But most of us do not make overlong, boring and repetitive movies (yes, with some brilliant stuff in them, now and again) out of the experience. MOMMY, Dolan's latest endeavor, is yet another look, in pointlessly small-screen mode (more of this later) at an extremely troubled relationship between mother and son.

M. Dolan, pictured at left (photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez, courtesy of Getty Images), generally chooses some excellent actors to use as bait and gives them surprising, often shocking stuff to say and do. Initially, we're hooked. And then, little by little -- at least for those of us who want more than a lot of repeated yelling, cursing and getting all in-your-face -- we become so annoyed and tired of it all that we slowly remove ourselves from that hook. And so it is here: for every fine acting moment and bit of choice dialog, there are several more that grow awfully wearisome.

We should probably begin our critique with the opening credit explanation that Dolan feeds us, explaining that his movie is set in some slightly distant future when Canada has passed a new law that, if I am remembering correctly, gives parents the right to hospitalize their problemed offspring as wards of the state. I am assuming he must do this because, as Canada now stands, what happens in the movie could not happen without this slightly "otherwise" circumstance. But since the film is all about fraught relations between mother (Anne Dorval, above) and teenage child (Antoine-Olivier Pilon, below), a not particularly unusual problem, one would think that the filmmaker could have handled this without this pointless if-things-were-otherwise element.

Further, Dolan has elected to shoot almost all of his film in an aspect ratio the IMDB calls 1:1. This is ridiculously narrow, like watching an 8-1/2 x 11 piece of paper on screen. (Even more so because we are always aware that the movie's frame is not properly filled out.) Well, thought I, he'll soon open up to wider proportions. Hah. We wait almost two hours before the filmmaker finally decides to grace us with width -- and then it's only for a brief fantasy segment in which the characters appear to be have aged into better versions of their former selves. Ah, a few feel-good moments thanks to wide-screen!

Otherwise, Mommy is mostly all screaming and fighting and then making up (briefly) before starting all over again. A neighbor (Suzanne Clément, above) who has her own problems -- speech and communication among them -- gets involved with our pair, as mom's friend and son's "caretaker," and this of course leads to further "fraughtness." After now seeing four of Dolan's films, several things seem clear. Our boy likes 'em lengthy (this one runs two hours and twenty minutes) and repetitive. There are enough of what you'd call plot and content here to last an hour or so. The rest is filler, though handled at times with great passion.

Passion, along with connection and relationships, are Dolan's aces-in-the-hole -- even if all these seem to have no real consequences along the way -- until at last we get to the point that the filmmaker has been promising since that opening credit explanation. Consequence does not even exist, it seems, regarding the poor teenager whose face our boy earlier burned almost beyond recognition in the group home in which they both lived. But I guess that's OK somehow because, hey, it's all been so "passionate." If you've seen several of Dolan's oeuvre and then encounter Mommy, you may want, as do I, to make a small suggestion: Fucking grow up, Xavier! Or at least give us movies that do.

Mommy, from Roadside Attractions, opens today in New York City (at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center) and in the West Los Angeles at The Landmark.  It was, by the way, the Canadian entry for this year's Best Foreign Language Film.

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