1996, PG-13, 104 min. Directed by Albert Brooks. Starring Albert Brooks, Debbie Reynolds, Rob Morrow, Lisa Kudrow, Isabel Glaser, Peter White.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 17, 1997
John Henderson (Brooks) is a science fiction writer who, following his second divorce, decides that it’s time for him to figure out, once and for all, the root cause of his failure with women and intimacy. To accomplish this, he decides to move back in with his mother – the primal source of all things intimate and woman-related. Not only does he decide to move back in with his less-than-convinced mom, he wants his old bedroom back (despite its conversion into a sewing room by a woman who never sews). To the tune of a lyrically hilarious update of “Mrs. Robinson,” John loads up his convertible and cruises up the highway to Sausalito, drags in from the garage his old lava lamp, twin bed, and wall posters, and reinstates himself in his boyhood home. “Why didn’t you want to stay in a hotel?” asks his mom Beatrice (Reynolds). From John’s point of view, she once more doesn’t “get” it. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s that she does get it and though she’s happy to see her son, she also knows that his upending of her happy domestic life will do little to explain why his two marriages failed. And perhaps that’s the point that Brooks is trying to make, that mothers are people too and that part of John’s difficulties stem from his inability to see Beatrice as an individual. Some of the film’s funniest moments come from these two as they tentatively try to mesh their habits and lifestyles. Mother finds Brooks in top form as he dons the tri-fold hat of director, star, and writer (with co-writer Monica Johnson). His humor has more of an observational zing than a jokey, one-two patter. Within this structure, Brooks uncovers many of the fidgety truths about the relationships between parents and their grown children. The film comeback of Debbie Reynolds is also a most welcome offshoot of this movie. With impeccable timing and a spirit as pert as ever, Reynolds as Beatrice can manage to introduce John to her supermarket friends as her “other son” and at once be both believably sweet and sadistic. Rob Morrow as the “successful” son who woos his mother with speaker phones and other expensive gifts also delivers a fine performance that mixes deep-seated sibling rivalries with genuine familial concerns. Although Brooks apparently takes a long time between projects (the last movie he directed was 1991’s uneven efending Your Life), the finely honed Mother proves that a new Brooks film is well worth the wait.