Mommies and Dollies. Films Reviewed: Mommy, Annabelle
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
This week is Mental Health Awareness week – John Kastner’s NFB documentary NCR: Not Criminally Responsible (listen to my interview with John here) is playing at the Bloor Cinema, and Rendezvous with Madness and the Psychiatry Department at U of T is showing William Kurelek’s: the Maze by filmmakers Nick and Zack Young (listen to my interview with Zack Young here), at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
This week, though, I’m talking about innocent-sounding movies about mommies and pretty dollies. But they’re not as innocent as you might think. One’s a Quebec drama about a mother trying to control her ADHD son; the other’s an American chiller about a mother trying to save her baby from an evil doll.
Dir: Xavier Dolan
Diane (Anne Dorval) is enjoying her life as a single woman in suburban Montreal. Her son’s away at boarding school, she has a steady job, and she’s flirting with that rich lawyer who lives around the corner. She dresses for flash-effect, with lots of shiny and pink. But calamity strikes. Her son Steve is kicked out of school after a violent incident and she loses her job.
Steve-o (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is a foul-mouthed teenager with ADHD. He wears his blond hair in a retro style, with a neck chain, T-shirt and jeans. He’s hyper-sexualized with pale skin and rubbery features. The kind of guy who looks as likely to punch you in the face as to kiss you. He’s a foul-mouthed, socially misfit, sexually charged and violent. But you can see where he gets it from – Diane is as gutter-friendly as he is. It’s up to her to get him to settle down and pass his tests. Trouble is he’s virtually uncontrollable, and she’s not big on parenting skills, so their lessons end up in violent fights.
In walks the psychologically-damaged ex-school teacher who lives next door. Kyla (Suzanne Clement) is shy, withdrawn and speaks with a severe stammer due to something bad in her past. Her husband’s a dull computer programmer, her daughter equally reserved. But she soon finds her place as the third element in Diane and Steve’s dysfunctional family. She becomes his teacher and dog trainer. But can the fragile bonds holding them together last?
Mommy is a reworking of Xavier Dolan’s simple, perfect, and highly personal first film J’ai Tue Ma Mere, made when he was still a teenager. Four films later, Mommy is far more sophisticated and complex in plot, script and character. Dorval replays the mother, but in a performance that is more three-dimensional, less camp. Dolan was sympathetic playing a bullied gay teen, but, with Pillon as the teenager, we get a kid who is as much misunderstood victim as bully. I get the feeling Dolan the director (necessarily) restrains Dolan the actor, but when he’s just behind the camera, he can let his characters loose. Steve is free to forge forth, like a river bursting a dam. This movie has dynamic, shocking and hilarious performances from all three actors. It’s a great film.
Mommy is Canada’s choice for Best Foreign Language movie at the Oscars, and I hope it wins — it really deserves it.
Dir: John R. Leonetti
It’s the late 1960s in central California. Mia and John (Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton) are a perfect-looking, church-going blond couple. New home, new car, he’s finishing medical school, she’s expecting their baby really soon. Mia collects antique dolls, so John buys her one to complete her set. And everything is just perfect, until…
…their lives are shockingly disrupted by an unexpected visit by Annabelle, their next door neighbours’ daughter. Anabelle ran away from home and joined a Charles Manson-style satanic cult. After that horrific incident, Mia says she no longer feels safe there with the new baby. And the huge doll she used to like so much is creeping her out. Strange things start to happen around it, involving a sewing machine, a rocking chair, and a package of jiffy pop. So they move out of the suburbs and into a downtown apartment.
Hubby is away most of the time, so he’s oblivious but accommodating. He thinks his wife’s gone whack from post-partum depression, but Mia knows there’s evil around her. And it wants her baby. She sees scary things everywhere: strange noises… the sign of the bull… a girl in a white nightgown… a rocking chair… an old-fashioned elevator… and that damned doll that keeps coming back! It seems to turn everything bad, somehow. So she turns for advice to kindly Father Perez (Tony Amendola) and Evelyn, a mysterious bookstore owner, with a penchant for the occult (Alfre Woodard). But are they all too late? And is Mia strong enough to overcome the evil forces that have invaded her once-happy life?
I saw this movie because it’s a prequel to The Conjuring, a movie that scared my pants off last year. So how does it copmpare? Not as scary, the acting not as compelling, the plot has lots of holes in it, and the script is weak with some unintentionally awful lines. It has few visual effects (though the sound effects are fantastic, one of the scariest things about the movie). And the story is a bit too Jesus-y for my taste. But is Annabelle scary? You bet it is.
Annabel Wallis is good as Mia — picture Madmen, but from Betty Draper’s point-of-view – beautiful but suspicious, lonely, paranoid and petulant. Annabelle is not perfect, but it works as a good and scary chiller-thriller — perfect for a late-night date.
Mommy and Annabelle both open today in Toronto – check your local listings. Also opening is the wonderful documentary Art and Craft about an eccentric art forger who gives his paintings away. (You can listen to my interview with filmmakers Sam Coleman and Jennifer Grausman here).
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com