Consider this sequence in Mommy. Steve, a hyperactive teen fresh out of a correctional facility, walks sulkily down a corridor behind his mother Diane. Cut to a point-of-view shot – presumably Steve’s – of Diane’s bum wiggling as she sashays along. In one neat edit we learn many things about this sassy pair and their peculiar oedipal relationship.
Xavier Dolan, the 25-year-old Canadian director-writer-actor-hipster extraordinaire, has already made four features, each dealing with variations on the themes of parenthood, adolescence and sexual awakening. Mommy follows their example; the plot, which sees widowed Diane struggle to raise her difficult son, especially resembles Dolan’s debut I Killed My Mother. He’s a gifted writer, and his characters jump off the page, screaming, snorting and swearing their way through his raucous dialogue.
Dolan doesn’t do subtlety. When his characters are happy, it’s sunny; when they’re sad, it rains; when things get dramatic, soaring strings are unabashedly deployed. Mommy contains the first unironic use of Wonderwall I’ve heard in ages. Dolan isn’t the tightest filmmaker and the story drags, but the film is carried by its sheer aesthetic chutzpah and the raw central performances (all by Dolan regulars).
There’s a newfound emotional intelligence here too. Diane and Steve swing between manic and depressive episodes, but Mommy neither sugarcoats their problems nor milks them for kitchen-sink melodrama. Beneath the flashy style and lurid innuendos, it’s a levelheaded film considering it’s by a twentysomething. As Dolan matures and drops the Oasis montages, let’s hope he doesn’t lose his touch for nuanced dramatic writing.