AFI Fest: Tom at the Farm (★★½)

tom-at-the-farm-posterIn the few Xavier Dolan films I’ve had the chance to witness, he’s often his own worst enemy. AFI Fest selection Tom at the Farm, sees the director at perhaps his most commercially viable and yet still contains many of the problems that have plagued his other films. Thankfully there’s enough good in the movie to make up for the issues that present themselves over the films running time.

Tom at the Farm stars Dolan, the aforementioned Tom, a young copywriter who travels to the country for the funeral of his lover. When he arrives he finds out that the mother of his love has no idea who he is or of her son’s sexual orientation having been deluded by her son Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) into believing he has a girlfriend. He is immediately thrust into a twisted game by Francis to keep up certain appearances for the grieving mom to protect their family at exceedingly greater costs.

The best way to describe Tom at the Farm is well-meaning but somewhat messy. There are so many different techniques and themes that Dolan tries to juggle in this movie. Unfortunately he ends up briefly focusing on a variety of elements rather than intensely focusing on a few. The screenplay, co-written by Dolan and Michel Marc Bouchard, manages to conjure up the requisite tension and twisted dealings that it needs to. However, for all it’s tension, it feels directionless, not knowing just how much effort to put into the twisted game Francis is playing and Tom’s desires to leave. This lack of direction rears its ugly head when a particular back story is introduced that’s not necessary.

As mentioned above, Tom at the Farm finds Dolan at his most commercial and aesthetically he does a great job blending his visual style with the country location. Only a filmmaker as gifted as Dolan could make a dance scene set inside of a barn seem sumptuous or a bar scene feel like it has more energy than the backwoods setting would normally give off. He lets the movie get away from him a bit too much in terms of story construction and pacing (Dolan also edits his films) but overall its a good step in his evolution as a filmmaker.

While the film may be worthy of a 2 1/2 star rating, none of the problems in the film had any impact whatsoever on the titanic performance given by Pierre-Yves Cardinal as Francis. Sure to become a new acting obsession of any who watches this film (he’s certainly become one of mine), Cardinal forcefully takes control of the movie and makes it his own. Normally actors playing this kind of brutish figure would go too far in trying to make the character intimidating or evil but Cardinal manages to find the perfect balance of physical intimidation, sex appeal, and insecurity without doing too much. His presence is felt even when he’s not on-screen, but when he’s on, you don’t want him to leave despite how sick that character is.

Tom at the Farm certainly has some flaws that are too big to ignore but in terms of genre filmmaking and acting, it’s a decent watch.