I Killed My Mother

Mom mayhem

I KILLED MY MOTHER (Xavier Dolan). 99 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 5). For venues, trailers and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN

Xavier Dolan’s I Killed My Mother is a mess. Some of it is really good, and some of it is painfully amateurish.[rssbreak]

But the story behind the movie is so appealing – writer/producer/director/star Dolan shot it with his own money when he was just 19 – that people are inclined to overlook its shortcomings and shower its triumphant auteur with prizes. (The film took the Prix Regards Jeune at Cannes, landed on Canada’s Top Ten for 2009 and won Dolan the Toronto Film Critics Association’s very first Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist.)

I can admire Dolan’s accomplishment without quite liking his movie. It’s that old observation about the dog walking on its hind legs – the wonder is not that it’s done well, but that it’s done at all.

The storyline is your basic generational-resentment deal. Dolan’s frequently shirtless high-school mope, Hubert, rails at each new humiliation life throws at him. He can barely stand to breathe the same air as his mother (Anne Dorval), who shares his hair-trigger temper and narcissistic vulnerability. And he’s figuring out his homosexuality, which means he’s even more on edge than most teenagers.

Since this is Dolan’s project, Hubert is idealized and his mother is rendered monstrous he’s always in the right, and she’s always misunderstanding him or reacting with disproportionate emotion. (It never gets violent, though the movie’s title refers to Hubert telling his teachers his mother is dead so he can play the sympathy card in an assignment.)

I Killed My Mother plays like pastiche, with Dolan’s influences rattling around inside it. There’s a lot of Godard, a little Malle, maybe some Gregg Araki or Gus Van Sant. But there’s not much originality in the way those influences are used. I’m curious to see what he does next, and how much of himself he’ll bring to it.

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