The Mother

The Mother

2004, R, 112 min. Directed by Roger Michell. Starring Anne Reid, Daniel Craig, Steven Mackintosh, Cathryn Bradshaw, Peter Vaughan.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 2, 2004

Sirk and Fassbinder, most famously, tackled the social stigma of a middle-aged woman reigniting her sex life with a younger man, but director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) and writer Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette) raise the stakes in The Mother by posing the question: What happens when the young, brawny thing mom is schtupping also happens to be her daughter’s boyfriend? Sixtysomething May (Reid) and her deteriorating husband Toots (Vaughan) leave their house in the suburbs for London to visit their grown children Bobby and Paula; the vacation is cut short when Toots suffers a fatal heart attack. Bobby tries to usher May back home, but she’s not having it – for her, retreat to her home signifies a giving-in to the final stage of her life – a life, she sadly notes, she has never really gotten around to living. Couch-hopping in London between Paula's and Bobby’s places, May instead makes the miraculous discovery that there’s still quite a lot of living to be had. At first, that epiphany is manifest in long walks, trips to the museum, and delight in what it feels like to get lost in a big city. But then enters Darren (Craig), the married, ne’er-do-well boyfriend of Paula who is also doing carpentry work at Bobby’s house. May is reluctant at first to give him a chance – as far as she can tell, he’s brought her flighty, single-mom daughter nothing but grief – but then May warms up to his many charms, as well as his tight tush and workman’s belt. An accidental, tipsy kiss between the two eventually ignites something of an erotic firestorm between the two, with long afternoons spent in every kind of position imaginable, all re-created in May’s squirmingly amateurish sketchbook. (Note to self: If you have to sleep with your daughter’s boyfriend, don’t draw incriminating pictures, and if you have to draw incriminating pictures, for God’s sake don’t leave the sketchbook lying around.) A certain inevitability hangs over The Mother – as if any of this could end well – but if Kureishi’s framework is perhaps predictable, his knotty, complex characters are not. There are constant shifts in both sympathy and loathing for each leg in this romantic triangle, and the actors – in particular Reid and Craig – give fearlessly to roles that might have been twittering. That said, there’s still something discomfiting about the film – and no, not because of the age gap. Instead, it’s Michell’s handling of the material. A vaguely Lifetime Network-feel hangs about the picture, with its lugubrious piano score and prudish lensing of the first crucial sexual encounter from faraway, out of focus, and with – no lie – a fluttering lace curtain flapping in front of the action. C’mon already – if the actors are so willing to expose themselves, physically and emotionally, then one would expect, nay demand, equal candor from the director. Perhaps aware the story borders on the mawkish, Michell overcompensates with an often-suffocating arthouse ethos, with excessively stagy framing, a glacial pace, and the overall hands-off reserve of a museum piece. It makes for an odd paradox – the actors eagerly plumbing the blood & guts of the thing, and Michell trailing behind them with the cinematic equivalent of a sanitary wipe, restoring order and artfulness to what might have been powerfully visceral.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Roger Michell Films
Blackbird
Susan Sarandon says goodbye to all this in deathbed remake

Sept. 11, 2020

Tea With the Dames
Share a cuppa with the great British ladies of the screen

Steve Davis, Dec. 14, 2018

More by Kimberley Jones
We Have an Issue: The Revolution Will Be Embroidered
We Have an Issue: The Revolution Will Be Embroidered
In this week’s cover story, Jessi Cape explores the resistance potential in cross stitch

April 9, 2021

30 New Shows, Returning Series, and Other TV Premieres This April
30 New Shows, Returning Series, and Other TV Premieres This April
Top Chef, crazy love, and sweet potters

April 1, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Mother, Roger Michell, Anne Reid, Daniel Craig, Steven Mackintosh, Cathryn Bradshaw, Peter Vaughan

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle