A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mommy is an intense, heart-rending depiction of the relationship between a widowed mom and her severely challenged young teen son, diagnosed with ADHD and an attachment disorder. A French-language film with English subtitles, the story takes place in Quebec. Profanity is rampant from beginning to end. Countless use of obscenities such as "f--k," "d--k," and "c--ksucker" is augmented by endless bouts of name-calling and swearing ("bitch," "s--thead, "dimwit," "idiot," "faggot," "jerk-off," and the "N" word). Underlying the story is a constant sense of impending violence and/or sexual menacing which could, and often does, erupt uncontrollably. Steve threatens, attacks, chokes, and fights with a number of men and women (including his mom) who either are trying to subdue him or are angrily reacting to his antisocial behavior. Characters smoke and drink throughout, sometimes to excess. (Spoiler alert: One sequence shows the bloody aftermath of a suicide attempt.) A disturbing but humanizing look at tragic circumstances for which there are no easy answers, this film is for mature teens and adults only. Mommy received the Cannes Festival Jury Prize in 2014, as well as many other international awards.
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What's the story?
MOMMY explores the volatile relationship between an erratic 15-year-old boy and his brash mom who loves him but is ill-equipped to deal with his behavior. Steve (played with integrity and ferocity by Antoine Olivier Pilon) has been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) as well as an attachment disorder, which together result in violent outbursts, uncontrollable rages, barely hidden sexual urges, and a continual desire for attention and confrontation. His widowed mother, Diane (the gifted, brave Anne Dorval), is forced to bring Steve home to live with her after a series of social service agencies and schools have thrown up their hands; his last offense was setting fire in the cafeteria, severely burning a classmate. Though without financial resources, a job, or the support of friends or family, Diane steels herself for the task, holding out faint hope for change and stability. An unexpected friendship with a fragile neighbor (Suzanne Clement) provides some respite. Both women see a spark of intelligence, charm, and a loving nature beneath Steve's outrageous behavior. But it's an uphill battle, worsened when Diane is sued by the family of the burned boy, sending the overwhelmed mother into attack mode and further endangering her broken son.
Is it any good?
Visually stunning scenes, courageous performances, a talented director with a gift for joining music with story, and a heart-rending, tragic dilemma combine to make this an unforgettable movie. The strong language, angry outbursts, sexual undercurrents, and emotional anguish will and should keep young audiences away. There's no escapism here, only brilliantly constructed and realized truth, which raises complicated and unanswerable questions. For very mature teens only and best when watched with sensitive adults.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how music enhances this story. What does the music tell you about Steve? About Diane? How does music enable these two people to communicate with one another?
The film was purposefully projected in a square format, not usual in contemporary films. Did you notice that occasionally the film widened out for a particular sequence? What was the filmmaker hoping to convey to his audience by using each of these techniques? For movie buffs, look up the film term "aspect ratio."
How did the constant use of obscenities and swearing affect your viewing? Was it shocking at first? Did it become more acceptable as the film continued? How did Steve's use of such language help define his emotions?
- In theaters: January 23, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: April 28, 2015
- Cast: Anne Dorval, Antoine Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clement
- Director: Xavier Dolan
- Studio: Metafilms
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 139 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, sexual references, some violence
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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