FILM REVIEW: MOMMY

There are some films that somehow suit the cinema in which they are shown.

Hidden away, yet only a stone’s throw from Leicester Square, is the sorry looking, run down, neglected, yet considerably charming Odeon on London’s Panton Street.

Sat amongst the customary handful of waifs, strays and assorted degenerates that always seem to coincide their film watching jamboree with my own, at this, the mother of all throw-back cinemas, you somehow couldn’t ask for a better venue to take in a gritty, Xavier Dolan offering.

Dolan’s last outing, back in 2014, was the excellent ‘Tom à la ferme’; a look at a family’s dysfunctionality, forbidden secrets and their coming to terms with bereavement. The main theme of family dysfunction is further explored here in ‘Mommy,’ another hard-hitting piece, exploring an alternative and much darker take on the classic, happy family unit.

Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon – massively dislikeable here in the main, in a good way), is a truly repellant teenager, but in fairness, there are mitigating cirumstances for this; he suffers from acute ADHD, a condition that has led him to be expelled from education establishments in which he’s caused untold havoc with serious, lasting repercussions. Steve’s mother, Diane (Anne Dorval), arrives on the scene to bring her son home. It’s a victory for heart over head, but in Diane’s mind, blood is thicker than water, family is family and it’s the right thing to do. It just so happens to be the only thing possible left to do, too. It’s a good job Steve has a mother like Diane who is at pains to insist that he’s a good boy at heart.

So unfolds a harrowing period of conflict, both verbal and physical, between Steve and his mother as they jostle for supremacy of the household. It’s only when shy but beguiling neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clement), enters their lives, befriends Diane and and becomes Steve’s home tutor, that, for an all too rare moment in time, Steve is able to rediscover genuine happiness and peace in his life; shedding his considerable burdens and living once again with some hope for his own future.

Dolan makes good use of an interesting technique of restricting the screen’s visual perspective to an unconventional 5:4 ratio which brings with it a sort of suffocating, restrictive feel to proceedings, presumably mirroring the exasperation, suffocation and hopelessness felt by Steve, his mother and Kyla.

On those fleeting occasions during the film when Steve  and consequently Diane and Kyla, appear to be embracing happiness, the screen opens out with the use of a more conventional and liberating 16:9,  widescreen perspective; in effect the world of possibility literally, visually opens up for them all.

It’s an intriguing relationship that Dolan paints between Steve, his mother and Kyla, a lady with her own family unit yet clearly experiencing feelings of suffocation and unfulfillment in her life; indeed, all three of the film’s key characters are sort of kindred spirits; made for and needing one another more than they may realise or would care to admit; a sort of surrogate family for each other. It’s unconventional, but it works.

There’s certainly no pulling of punches with Dolan’s in-your-face style of dialogue and direction. He does a great job of  exploring inside the fragile minds of characters that are deeply troubled in their own way and who shoulder their own considerable emotional baggage.

On a slightly critical note, the film’s conclusion seemed just a little undercooked and the screenplay occasionally loses it’s way, but no matter; the good work that precedes it firmly establishes ‘Mommy’ as a powerful and somewhat troubling story of frustration, home truths and tough love and is yet more evidence of Xavier Dolan’s burgeoning reputation as one of the best young film makers out there.

Advertisements

FILM REVIEW: The Falling

I’m sure ‘The Falling’ all made sense and was suitably bewitching and mysterious inside writer / director Carol Morley’s own head, but there’s no evidence that it travelled the relatively short journey from big screen to my brain at all well. I’m still rather baffled by it all.

Not that it was a particularly complicated plot or that it was directed in such a manner that it left too much to the imagination; it wasn’t and it didn’t. It just never really got going, or seemed to get to where it needed to be for that matter.

The story revolves principally around two main characters, Abbie and Lydia, both of whom are students at a strict, 1960s all-girls school. They share the closest of friendships. Abbie, the more attractive and outgoing of the two, is beginning to explore her sexuality, and when she loses her virginity in the back of some boy’s car, it’s hard for Lydia to cope with, but it’s the beginning of a chain of contagious, occult-like happenings which are of far more concern.

Before we know it, Abbie, then Lydia and eventually the whole school are fainting, convulsing and generally showing signs of some kind of possession, much to the horror of the rather disciplinarian, old-fashioned teaching staff.

Is the cause of such demonic occurrences somehow linked to Lydia’s house-bound mother? Perhaps her work-shy brother has had a hand in things in some way, or maybe even Lydia herself is the cause of it all?

It’s hard to care in all honesty.

Lydia herself (Maisie Williams), it should be said, makes a brave effort to carry the film’s flimsy script and rather apathetic direction, but it’s simply a film of far too many flaws and failings.

One such flaw is the relentless fits of fainting; they actually induced far more fits of laughter from the audience than concern or shock. Perhaps that was the point, I don’t know. Certainly the whole thing was so hammed up and ridiculous, it quickly resembled an overly-enthusiastic, girls’ sixth form amateur dramatics class.

In fairness, it’s actually not a bad idea for a film and it could have probably worked slightly better in the right director’s hands.

Perhaps a further viewing would clarify some of this muddled tale of teenage hormones and shady goings on, but as it stands, it feels painfully long, drawn-out and generally lacking in purpose and point. A real ‘watch-checker’ of a film.

Maybe I missed the point; it happens.

Not one I’d be in any sort of hurry to recommend.

FILM REVIEW: Dark Horse

I don’t know much about the Sport of Kings, nor horses in general for that matter; infact I’ll go so far as to say that horses are an absolute mystery to me. Whilst some may get positively giddy over the sight of a thoroughbred, I just about manage a shrug of the shoulders at best. I really do wonder what all of the fuss is about.

That said, I do know something about underdogs and I do get excited by a good rags to riches tale and that’s exactly what Dark Horse is; a moving documentary about the unlikely rise to sporting stardom of a foal, reared, initially at least, on an allotment in the Welsh valleys.

Quite how a syndicate of inexperienced Welsh hopefuls succeeded in turning Dream Alliance into a contender in this billionaires playground, without the considerable benefits of having a Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on speed dial, should leave even the eternally optimistic amongst us scratching our collective heads in confusion; but succeed they most certainly did.

Director and writer Louise Osmond has lovingly pieced together sections of original footage alongside assorted interviews with those from the ex-mining community whose tale it is to tell and it’s their natural charm and abundance of character that really give this film wings.

Dark Horse has the feel of a real life Brassed Off or Full Monty, capturing nicely that close-knit spirit of working class community and togetherness that many a fictional Brit-flick has done so well over the years.

Even a self-confessed, bewildered equine-sceptic like myself couldn’t help being considerably charmed by this little gem.

It might not remain on furlong, so do yourself a favour and stick it near the top of your ‘to see’ list.

Charming, at times life-affirming and a lesson to all in the power of belief and perseverance.