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Film in review – “Mommy”

Mommy-by-xavier-dolan-cannes-posterOK, all you veteran moms and dads out there: truth-telling time. There have been moments when you wish you hadn’t had kids at all. Maybe, if you’re lucky, not too many of those moments. But at some desperate boiling-over point, when you were in the I-can’t-get-out-of-this-mess throes of figuring out what to do with a child who was ornery, unruly, disobedient, disrespectful and frankly a public embarrassment – well, that’s the parental nightmare #486.

Diane “Die” Despres (Anne Dorval) is living that particular parental nightmare and living it every waking moment. Her son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) suffered as a child from ADHD, hyperactivity and wild bipolar swings and became so unmanageable after her husband’s death that she decided to institutionalize him, a unilateral parental decision allowed under Canadian law. The equivalent of juvenile detention didn’t treat Steve’s maladies, it only intensified them, plus he learned some horrible social interaction behaviors there: intimidation, threats, physical taunting, verbal abuse and gutter language equivalent to any street gang. He’s so out of control that the detention center called his mother and told her to come get him; they couldn’t do anything with him.

And now neither can Diane. She’s completely overwhelmed by the way he treats her and talks to her and all her attempts to cajole, tough-talk, sweet-talk or just plain appeal to what little boy might be left in him fail miserably. He is indeed out of control. He’s a disaster waiting to happen, a time bomb ready to explode. But Diane has just enough nurturing mother left in her to keep trying valiantly.

Diane is kind of a crusty, lusty piece of work in her own right. Smokes incessantly, drinks too frequently, has a hard time holding on to a job. She dresses too flamboyantly for a 40-something mom of a teenager. Heels too high, jeans too tight, neckline too low, tattoos still proudly on display. She could work around her last boss by flirting and teasing, but now he’s been replaced by a steely-eyed battle-axe matriarch who’s not going to let her get away with anything. Before Diane knows it, she’s back to cleaning houses again. But even then, she has to find someone to watch Steve and even attempt to home-school him for her.

Enter Kyla (Suzanne Clement), an otherwise friendly across-the-street neighbor who seems to have a severe stuttering problem, which is strangely more pronounced when she’s around her husband and daughter, but seems to loosen up a little when she’s visiting with Anne and Steve. Well, loosening up is what they’re good at, and Kyla revels in their party atmosphere: throwing down the shots and dancing with abandon in their kitchen. But Steve, in trying to emotionally walk all over her, discovers that she has a toughness he didn’t expect, and he finds himself responding to her, at least well enough to make the situation almost-bearable for everybody. Until the civil lawsuit over Steven’s most recent violence catches up to them, and Diane tries to date a lawyer-neighbor who just might help them with the case, and Steve is suddenly beside himself with a raving, red-eyed jealous rage that even he can’t control.

Whew. Sounds pretty heavy. And it is. Also difficult to watch. But the performances are noteworthy, from all three main characters. And is all the cursing somewhat diluted by being subtitled, or does reading it make it more personal than hearing it?

RONALD P. SALFEN is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.