Film Review: I Killed My Mother

Engrossing semi-autobiographical dramatic comedy about a gay Montreal teen and the exasperated single mother who struggles to handle him should appeal well beyond the gay crowd. Wonderful performances, poignant story, light tone and nifty visuals add u

Young filmmaker/star Xavier Dolan’s I Killed My Mother generated terrific buzz a few years ago when it had a sensational festival run, including a Cannes award, and became Canada’s 2009 official entry for the Foreign-Language Oscar. But soon after, the film got orphaned when its original distributor encountered problems. Now in the hands of Kino Lorber, this bright, amusing tale of a gay teen forever at love-hate odds with his divorced mother has the goods to catch on well beyond the gay crowd. Making his feature film debut when he was only 20, Dolan as filmmaker/writer/producer/star revealed himself as a multi-faceted talent whose first effort remains fresh today.

From beginning to end over just a few years, the story is informed by that eternally confounding conundrum of the emotionally driven mother-son push and pull of anger, love, frustration and cross-purposes. Sixteen-year-old Hubert (Dolan) lives in a tidy suburban Montreal apartment with mother Chantale (Anne Dorval), who was divorced from Hubert’s father Richard (Pierre Chagnon) when the boy was seven and struggles more with him now that he is heading into his later teens.

Hubert isn’t doing well in school, is moody and hostile and, to her annoyance, often needs to be chauffeured here and there. He’s a handful and they fight a lot. Much of the tension might have to do with Hubert’s guilt, as he’s secretly otherwise engaged with Antonin (François Arnaud), a fellow student.

Much time is spent at Antonin’s apartment where he lives with his fun-prone, open-minded mother Hélène (Patricia Tulasne). Accepting that the boys share a bed and some occasional weed, she’s a stark contrast to the more severe and close-minded Chantale.

On the school front, Hubert lies to teacher Julie (Suzanne Clement) in a questionnaire by declaring that his mother is dead. Julie discovers the fib, bonds with the student and becomes a kind of mentor. She even shares the problems she has had with her father.

At a tanning salon, mothers Chantale and Helene, just casual acquaintances, run into each other. Chatting brightly with Chantale and her good pal Denise (Monique Spaziani), Helene, not meaning to spill the beans, lets it slip that Hubert is gay.

Of course, more mother-son resentment builds as Chantale is disturbed that this information didn’t come from Hubert himself. Their fighting continues off and on until she betrays her anger at not being told. He runs away but is tricked by his father so that there’s a brief reconciliation with his mother. But Hubert is sent off to boarding school, which brings on more challenges and complications. Much of the story is told inventively through flashbacks, some unexpected fantasy scenes, and Hubert’s own camcorder footage of his feelings.

Dolan’s triumph is that, having only emerged from his teens when made his debut, he manages to be as authentic and wise in his observations as he is entertaining and deliberate in his filmmaking.