Culture & Conversation

Mother Dearest and the Boys Who Survive

Dustin Hoffman plays a tough choir conductor in Boychoir

Dustin Hoffman plays a tough choir conductor in Boychoir

Watching films outside the home is a rare occasion chez nous. Statistics show it is for most people, and getting more so by the year. Last Saturday was a big day for me. I saw two movies in the company of strangers, an element of the public entertainment experience that’s often forgotten by lazy beasts content sink into our sofas and take what’s on offer on the home screen.

On a sunny weekend afternoon, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy drew a healthy crowd to Cinema Excentris – mostly Boomers like me, which raises the question of why our demographic is largely neglected by arts media and advertising.

Regardless, so much has been written about Dolan’s celebrated Oscar-bound pic that I approached Mommy with trepidation, fearing disappointment. The lad has constructed an amazing international career on the boy-mom theme. What more could he have to say? What the plethora of reviews did not prepare me for was the tightly wound violence of the piece. From the get-go, this movie is a ticking bomb.

The gauzy sentimentality of J’ai tué ma mère is referenced, albeit with a high dose of irony. Performances by the three actors, Anne Dorval as a drowning single mother, Antoine Olivier Pilon as her explosive son Steve, and their angel neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément) are outstanding. Drenched in narcissism, the film is a high-octane experience. I resisted leaving the theatre twice, and by the end, was glad I’d stayed. This is a powerful work. Whether there’s a single shred of an idea or insight at the core that would make endurance worthwhile is an open question. But then one doesn’t ask that question of horror or thrillers.

I rushed out during the credits and just made it to François Girard’s new movie Boychoir, screened at the Festival du nouveau cinéma in anticipation of a spring, 2015 launch. A strangely appropriate companion piece to Mommy, Boychoir is grounded by an amazing young actor, Garrett Wareing, who has the good fortune to share screen time with Dustin Hoffman, Debra Winger and Kathy Bates. Many of the choir members in the movie are students of the real-life American Boychoir School, where most of the film is set

When the boy’s alcoholic mother dies, he is sent to the elite Eastern choir school, tuition paid by his absent father, who won’t own up to his illegitimate son’s existence, fearing admission of adultery would destroy his “real family”, two daughters and a pretty wife. The script by Ben Ripley (know for action horror films) makes a moving statement about the purpose of art and excellence, the transformative power of talent.

The packed auditorium at Concordia was riveted throughout. Like most, I stayed through the end of the credits – it’s that kind of experience.

File this one under inspiring, first-rate family entertainment. Boychoir is set to open sometime next spring.

The 43rd edition of Festival du nouveau cinéma continues through October 19. Full schedule of films here.

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