Like it or not, Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan is, at age 25, almost insufferably talented. This year marks his fourth trip to the Croisette as a director, as he debuted in 2009 with the intensely personal “I Killed My Mother.” But his latest, “Mommy,” is his first to bow in the Main Competition. And based on critics’ initial reactions, it’s a doozy.
“Mommy” stars Anne Dorval as the titular widowed mother who’s struggling to right her wayward, sometimes-violent son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) until a mysterious neighbor (Suzanne Clement, who was lovely in Dolan’s 2012 Un Certain Regard entry “Laurence Anyways“) lends a helping hand.
As in “Laurence Anyways,” Dolan does not appear in front of the camera this time around. His films tend to benefit without his showy, overly emotional acting style — though in last year’s psychosexual thriller “Tom at the Farm,” still bobbing around the festival circuit with no sign of a US release date, Dolan showed growth as a performer in playing a closet-y hipster. (“Tom” premiered at TIFF rather than Cannes, the only one of his five films to do so.)
Critics went over-the-moon for “Mommy” on Twitter — see /bent’s roundup here — spurring a hot debate among Hitfix’s Guy Lodge (who’s tepid), AwardsDaily’s Sasha Stone (gushing) and Salon.com’s Andrew O’Hehir (leery). Either way, early reviews are stellar. Thus far, Cannes pundits have pegged “Mr. Turner” and “Winter Sleep” as Palme frontrunners. But with the fest now in mid-swing, is Dolan, whose flamboyant style and lack of formal discipline often divide critics, the new leader of the pack?
The Hollywood Reporter calls “Mommy” his most substantial work yet:
Rarely given to modesty, Dolan’s fondness for operatic, style-saturated histrionics on-screen and tetchy narcissism in person tends to divide critics and juries.
But Dolan’s fifth feature feels like a strong step forward, striking his most considered balance yet between style and substance, drama-queen posturing and real heartfelt depth. A lusty character study of a working-class Montreal single mother and her emotionally damaged teenage son, “Mommy” should have plenty of potential commercial appeal beyond Dolan’s hardcore arthouse fanbase. This could be his “Blue Is The Warmest Color” moment. The Ego has landed.
The Guardian likes this “splashy, transgressive treat”:
It’s an uproariously emotional movie, to all appearances painfully personal and featuring performances which are almost operatic in scale. These are real heart-on-sleeve performances; even heart-on-straightjacket performances. The film has its flaws, relating to an indulgent length and a reliance on an imagined near-future in which there is a specific new Canadian law which makes the plot work. But Dolan’s energy and attack is thrilling; his movie is often brilliant and very funny in ways which smash through the barriers marked Incorrect and Inappropriate.
The Playlist‘s “A” review says it’s “undoubtedly a major contender for the Palme”:
Centered on an incredible performance from Ann Dorval, with whom Dolan reunites after “Laurence Anyways” and a no less revelatory one from Antoine Olivier Pilon as her son, the film is brimming with the kind of directorial tics and tricks that would in most other contexts be loathsome, but practically every single one of them works here. From the boxlike, 1:1 aspect ratio (which changes at certain key junctures, rather like Dolan did with his last film “Tom at the Farm,” but for a completely different effect) that makes close ups of faces look like beautifully composed passport photos, to the engineered, artificial and awesome use of slo mo and montage, to the soundtrack, which is an extraordinary example of making audience members’ hearts sing through the careful application of wuss rock and MOR Mom music, time and again we were left a little winded at the sheer degree of (well-earned) directorial confidence on display.
And here’s Sasha Stone at AwardsDaily:
The first thing people will ask you upon exiting one of his films is “how does it stack up against his others?” He is very likely headed for that familiar wall when many critics may never want him to evolve past his first early films. And yet, Dolan will likely be remembered as one of the most influential filmmakers of his time, his footprints not yet measured, his impact not fully seen — not for years, not until the myth that his best films are behind him can be extinguished. He’s 25. He just made one of the best films at the Cannes film festival. There is nothing about Xavier Dolan to indicate that his best is already behind him.