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Overall Rating

Awesome: 26.32%
Worth A Look: 31.58%
Pretty Bad: 5.26%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 13 user ratings

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Mother, The
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"Mother’s day"
3 stars

Middle-aged female flesh has received some unexpected screen time lately. First, Helen Mirren and her posse of British country ladies posed as Calendar Girls. Then a romantic affair with Jack Nicholson revitalised the 50-something Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. Now, in the intimate British drama The Mother, Anne Reid plays a woman in her 60s who undergoes a sexual re-awakening.

May (Reid) and husband “Toots” (Peter Vaughan) have ventured out of suburbia to visit their grandchildren in thriving inner city West London. They are staying with upwardly mobile son Bobby (Steven Mackintosh), his wife Helen (Anna Wilson-Jones) and their two children. May and Toots’ other child, daughter Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw), lives nearby with her young son. Bobby’s best mate, Darren (Daniel Craig), is building a conservatory at the back of Bobby and Helen’s place.

The younger generations are too caught up in the bustle of their own lives to slow down when May and Toots arrive, and barely acknowledge them. Over dinner, Toots nevertheless remarks how proud and happy he is to have his family together. Later that night, he has a heart attack and dies. Bobby can’t whisk May back to the suburbs fast enough but May is determined not to fade away in a forlorn neighbourhood of retirees. She insists on returning to London to be around her family. Bobby is cold, his wife hostile and the grandchildren indifferent. “Why shouldn’t I be difficult?” insists May.

Paula welcomes her mother as a free child-minder and a sounding board for her - considerable - neuroses. “You hardly touched me”, wails Paula about her upbringing, as if this explains the failure of her creative writing aspirations and her masochistic, one-sided affair with Darren. Paula encourages May to befriend the builder so she can ascertain whether or not they have a future together. The last thing anyone expects is for May to invite Darren into her bed - or for Darren to accept.

The writer of The Mother, Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, Intimacy), has always railed against cinematic sexual boundaries. Laundrette (1985) was about a gay relationship between a Pakistani entrepreneur and a white punk. Here, his gaze turns on the sexual needs of the elderly, and love between the generations. May certainly is not reticent or tentative about Darren. She becomes as obsessed about him as her daughter and depicts graphic sexual fantasies about him in her sketchbook.

It is no wonder her newfound sexuality shocks the family. May has hitherto treaded softly through their house, following them into rooms like an extra shadow. Out of sight, May is also very much out of mind. Her plea - “God, let us be alive before we die” - expresses the shared misery of the unwanted and those on society’s edge. It’s also a wake-up call to the rest of us. Too often we fritter away our lives in busyness and business with little awareness of what we’re doing.

Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Notting Hill) directs Kureishi’s screenplay thoughtfully and intelligently. The establishing scenes precisely spell out the contrast between the empty bustle of the young professionals and the comparative stillness and patience of their forebears. Michell constantly places the characters inside frames within frames, to highlight the enclosed worlds in which they live and the prisons of their making.

It’s a shame that The Mother collapses into contrived histrionics. It’s not the fault of Reid, whose characterisation of May is persistent and powerful. Reid never begs for our pity but wants us to understand May on her terms. Daniel Craig (Road to Perdition) is an appealing presence as the kindly, confused Darren. But his performance flounders as Darren’s motivations become murkier and more confusing. After the final tantrum, it’s difficult to know what Darren thinks of May or Paula, who exactly he’s been using and for what. Bobby is little more than an unfeeling capitalist cliché. Cathryn Bradshaw plays the narcissistic Paula shrilly, as a touchy-feely hysterical harpy. Her insecurities are trotted out for laughs, but it isn’t very funny watching someone this fragile fall to pieces.

Calendar Girls and Something’s Gotta Give had their serious moments, but were generally light in tone. The Mother is the inverse. Kureishi is an unflinching chronicler of modern urban life, an unrepentant Angry Young Man. He wants us to feel guilty and ashamed about affluent Western society’s shunning of the elderly and their sexual appetites.

Kureishi has a point, but he doesn’t know when to ease up on his anger. He offers us characters that are initially easy to empathise with and then tears into them for the sake of teaching us all a lesson. We’re forced to wallow in their pain as he rips the scabs off their wounds with unseemly glee. This is Mike Leigh for the upper middle classes. Kureishi offers a token of hope - a taste of freedom for May - at the end, but it doesn’t erase the lingering taste of medicine in the throat.

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originally posted: 04/27/04 12:58:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/13/09 Anonymous. wow. depressing, and really tricky subject matter, but it definitely pulls it off. 4 stars
8/12/07 Elaine Very Thought Provking 5 stars
12/09/06 Sophie This movie was beautifully shot, it was like watching magic. 4 stars
3/26/06 KMG I WOULD LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE TO SUCK OFF DANIEL CRAIG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2 stars
1/30/05 Lucas Stenz Best film of 2004 5 stars
10/19/04 hotforreid reid didn't show enough flesh 4 stars
9/14/04 Elizabeth Bold performance by Reid; Darren becomes an enigma after last quarter character shift 4 stars
7/03/04 Helen Bradley Great movie excellent script and acting 5 stars
7/02/04 CAK Beautifully filmed, but characters lost their subtlety towards the middle 4 stars
6/05/04 judy miller this film was brilliantly acted and directed subtlefar deeperthan the slightly banal review 5 stars
5/22/04 Ray NOT IMPRESIVE 3 stars
4/26/04 stenobabe shocking, unusual, loving portrait of someone we don't usually think much about 5 stars
4/07/04 thejames has its moments, a bit odd but interesting 4 stars
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  28-May-2004 (R)
  DVD: 12-Oct-2004


  01-Jul-2004 (MA)

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