Living up to your name can't be easy. In the late 1800s, strongman Louis Cyr was a real-life superhero in Canada — and his legend has only grown larger since. Today, icons like him who seem to defy the very laws of nature are hard to come by. But in the filmmaking world, Xavier Dolan comes pretty close.
At the ancient age of 25, Dolan has already directed five critically (and, increasingly, commercially) successful films. I say "directed" for shorthand; in truth, he does a hell of a lot more than that. He's the writer, producer, editor, costume designer – even the doggone subtitle translator – for each of these films. Not to mention the fact he stars in most of his films, too. Even though Dolan stays behind the camera (for all but a self-reflective moment) in Mommy, all discussions about the film inevitably come back to him. And it always starts with the same question: can he carry the incredible weight of expectations and responsibility that have been placed upon him?
Apparently he can.
Mommy circles back on Dolan's favourite themes: misdirected angst, confused sexuality, youthful arrogance, and depressing adult pragmatism. His ability to lay bare so many issues is what has always made his work electric, honest, and just a shade clear of precious. Sure, he has plenty of haters, but that's the name of the game when you achieve so much so young (ask Lena Dunham). The trick is to find a way to stay true to your voice without repeating yourself. In that regard, Mommy feels like the refined version of a message Dolan has been sending for the past five years.
Mommy features Dolan's most troubled and co-dependent relationship yet. One that acts like a proverbial collision course between an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. The acting, in other words, is explosive, with shouting matches between the mother of the title (Dolan's oft collaborator Anne Dorval) and her dangerously spastic son, played by Antoine-Oliver Pilon, that often tip into violence. Refreshingly, this intensity is counterbalanced by Suzanne Clément's performance as a stuttering and sweet-natured neighbour who volunteers to home-school the troubled teen.
Dolan edges much closer to melodrama that that, however. Catchy pop songs (from "Wonderwall" to "White Flag") accompany slow-motion montages that quite literally have characters stretching their arms out while looking up to the sky. And in what initially seems like a fatal hipster indulgence, the film is shot in an Instagram aspect ratio (perfectly square). But there's a certain magic to Dolan's madness. By not shying away from clichés and experimentations, he pushes past novelty into a place of genuine emotional resonance.
It's a testament to Dolan's talent and tenacity that he has been able to separate himself from a generation where "too cool" detachment too often rules the day.
So please, Louis, keep brining this young man whatever he asks for.