Shayne LaverdiËre
Chris Nashawaty
January 27, 2015 AT 05:00 AM EST


Current Status
In Season
139 minutes
Limited Release Date
Xavier Dolan
Xavier Dolan

We gave it an A

If you feel uncomfortable watching Xavier Dolan’s gripping new film, Mommy, that’s entirely by design. The movie is projected in a tightened 1:1 aspect ratio, which means the screen is essentially a square postage stamp rather than a rectangular envelope. But even if you’re not hip to the technical specs, the visual cue still works: You feel the movie closing in on you the same way that life is closing in on the characters. Dolan, the 25-year-old French-Canadian enfant terrible, is toying with the audience, telling us how to feel right off the bat before he’s had a chance to earn it. But you won’t mind because his story winds up being so raw and heartbreaking. It taps into every parent’s worst nightmare—the horror of being unable to protect an out-of-control child. The marvelous Anne Dorval stars as Diane, a struggling working-class widow whose teenage son, Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon), is tossed out of a state care facility after setting a fire. Steve may have the meringue face of an angel, but he’s a wild, hyperactive cyclone who’s too much for Diane to handle. Still, he’s her son. And the brief flashes of little-boy sweetness that occasionally break through his anger make her want to try. She’s a fighter. Dolan throws a stranger into the mix, a kindly neighbor (Suzanne Clément) who attempts to homeschool Steve. But he can’t be taught…or tamed. His mind revs too fast; his troubles run too deep. All of this leads Diane toward a decision that no parent should have to make, and Dorval’s face makes you feel every bit of anguish in that grim choice. Mommy is an unsparing movie full of hope and bitter truth. A

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