Killing mothers has never been be so boring

Reviews of Xavier Dolan’s J’ai Tue Ma Mère (I Killed My Mother) almost unfailingly reference how young he was when the movie was made. Dolan was the 19-year-old director, writer and star of the film which chronicles a gay Quebecois teenager and his rocky relationship with his single mother (Anne Dorval) who he views as boring and tacky.

Maybe critics reference his age because of the close proximity it establishes between the film’s main character, Hubert Minel and Dolan, who has stated in interviews that the film is partly autobiographical and it reflects difficulties he faced growing up as a gay teenager in a broken home.

Regardless of how impressive a feat it is to write, direct and star in a feature length film at 19, it unfortunately doesn’t make J’ai Tue any better. The film is plagued by a sense of juvenility and though that might seem obvious considering the subject matter, it just doesn’t work for the film. Though Dolan is blunt and painfully narcissistic, he doesn’t capture the same energy or candor that marked Catcher in the Rye, which broaches similar subject matter. His constant bickering with his mother just isn’t all that interesting and it is frustrating to watch him tear down the barriers around him to only build them up again a few minutes later.

The offshoots with other characters like his boyfriend Antonin (Francois Arnaud) and his teacher (Suzanne Clement) are similarly uninteresting. While the scenes could have revealed another side to Hubert, these important interactions with others feel forced and stale. Antonin’s “cool” mother is used as a too obvious foil to the vapidness that Hubert sees in his own mother and a conversation in a diner between Hubert and his teacher totally lacks any sense of genuineness.

Dolan does sometimes find success with his direction and it’s definitely one of the film’s stronger aspects. The movie is well paced and the soundtrack accurately reflects the tone of the film.

There are a few good scenes too. Interspersed through the movie are montages were dialogue is dropped and the soundtrack takes over. These moments are emotionally raw, quite strong and feature some of Dolan’s best acting. There is another strong scene in which Hubert’s mother berates an educator after he suggests her household needs a strong male presence to improve Hubert’s behaviour.

Ultimately, though, the movie trundles through teenage angst without being all that engaging.

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