Back in January, I fell hard for writer-director Xavier Dolan’s Canadian import Mommy. That film, a vibrantly heartbreaking drama about a single mother burdened with an out-of-control teenage son, was full of beauty, brutality, hope, and hopelessness. Now, just a short eight months later, the 26-year-old wunderkind’s newest U.S. release, Tom at the Farm, feels like a slight step backwards—which makes sense, since it was actually filmed before Mommy. It’s a tentative slow burn about the secrets we keep in the name of love, and it doesn’t quite add up.
As if writing and directing weren’t enough, Dolan also stars in the film as Tom – a punky-looking, sensitive young gay man from Montreal who drives out to the rural home of his recently deceased lover Guillaume to pay his respects while keeping the nature of their relationship under wraps. Tom doesn’t have the heart to tell Guillame’s mother (Lise Roy) that her late son was gay – or express just how much he meant to him. Meanwhile, Guillaume’s older brother Francis, a hot-headed bully (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who knows about his brother’s secret life, physically and psychologically threatens Tom to keep up the act.
You may wonder why Tom doesn’t just get in his car and leave? I certainly did at times. But Dolan’s film wants us to believe that Tom is a sort of willing prisoner – a Stockholm Syndrome casualty whose self-loathing, grief, and love for Guillaume compels him to act with emotion rather than reason. Dolan gives a wounded, nuanced performance as Tom, but the first half of the film is a slow burn that burns way too slowly. And when the film does finally gather some Hitchcockian tension in the homestretch (thanks to Gabriel Yared’s sinister score), it doesn’t follow through in a satisfying way. Dolan has always been an enigmatic filmmaker. But in Tom at the Farm, the puzzle pieces never quite add up to a complete picture. C+