Mother, The (UK; 112 min.)


directed by: Roger Michell
starring: Anne Reid; Daniel Craig; Cathryn Bradshaw
The Mother
 

Bruce says: “'…And through the Eye correct the Heart' is an excerpt from the poem by David Garrick written as a eulogy for William Hogarth an 18th century painter and engraver. The poem is chiseled onto the monument at Hogarth’s Grave in St. Nicholas Churchyard, Chiswick. May (Anne Reid) has very recently lost her husband. When she says to Darren, 'Dear God, let us be alive before we die' something in her voice strikes a chord. Darren (Daniel Craig) suggests lunch and afterwards he absentmindedly takes May to this small churchyard to show her one of his favorite places. He apologizes for his insensitivity, taking a grieving widow to a cemetery for a good time. May, however, relishes the moment and reads the entire poem aloud at Darren’s request.

"May’s heart is heavy and needs lots of correcting. She is grieving but she doesn’t know why. May loved her husband as a good wife should but she never learned to love herself. It’s possible her husband was one of those men whom it suits to keep their women unhappy. She never was a good mother and wanted to kill herself out of guilt for it. May has always felt ignorant; felt she didn’t know anything – 'a horrible housewife, terrible at everything,' is how she phrases it. No matter from what angle you view it, May hasn’t had much of a life.

Before dying, her husband said 'The thing I’m most proud of is my family.' Not May. May doesn’t particularly like her children, much less think of them in terms of pride. Bobby (Steven Macintosh) is a 'golden boy' who charms everyone yet never once delves beyond the superficial in any of his relationships. Bobby offers his mother not so much as a hug or word of comfort after his father’s death. Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw) is a wildly insecure single mom who is head over heels in love with Darren or so she tells herself and everyone else. In fact, she lives in a fantasy world. Darren is one hell of a sexy man with a gorgeous body, that part is real. But never once does he return the sentiment when she slobbers the 'I love you's' while kissing him madly all over. Paula doesn’t notice and continues her fantasy that Darren will leave his wife and autistic child and move in with her. She has sessions with a therapist but how much good she gets out of them is questionable. Her mother asks, 'Why can’t you talk to your hairdresser like everyone else?' That was how her mother dealt with issues in her day (as if serious issues were ever discussed).

"After the visit to the graveyard, when May and Darren return to her son’s house where Darren has been busy adding a conservatory, May confesses an infidelity during her marriage. She had an affair with an antique dealer, twice going to his bed. The two of them planned to run away; instead May never saw him again, feeling it wasn’t right to do 'something that would upset anyone.' She listens to her own story as if hearing about herself for the first time and then asks Darren, 'Would you come up to the spare room with me.' Thus begins a most unlikely affair. 'I thought no one would ever touch me again,' May says as Darren gently caresses her body

"May begins drawing, a pastime she had put behind her long ago. Now she has a reason to draw, she is entranced by Darren’s body and his sexuality. She fills a book of drawings with him working naked. She even depicts sex acts between herself and Darren. What was a tired, harsh face now slowly softens; May becomes radiant.

"Aging is a driving force. Some give into it, some fight it, and others try to make up for lost time. May tells her son, 'If I sit down, I’ll never get up, just like all the old girls. Then I’ll go into a home. Why shouldn’t I be difficult?' May is not ready for old age. When her rapport with her children becomes strained as her relationship with Darren is suspected, instead of caving in emotionally May becomes stronger and decidedly unapologetic. She uses her affair with Darren as a means to begin a new life and to bring closure to her former one. Her heart may not be one hundred per cent corrected but she has come a long way. Aging will not stand in her path.

"Anne Reid (LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND) is an actress who has tackled the subtleties of her role down to a 't.' She is totally believable as a woman with many mixed emotions all being stirred at once. Daniel Craig (SYLVIA; ROAD TO PERDITION; LOVE IS THE DEVIL) is an actor of great versatility. His Ted Hughes and George Dyer were light years away from Darren, yet all his performances have been totally on target. Roger Michell gleans fine performances all around. The original score by Jeremy Sams fits each scene like a glove.

"Some marvelously comic moments arise when mother and daughter dance around the fact that both are having sex with the same man, often on the same day. There is a last ditch effort to add drugs to the plot perhaps to better explain behavior. Whatever the reason, it simply doesn’t work. A violent scene near the end of the film nearly ruins the mood and makes little sense in the context of what we already know. 4.5 cats"

 
Diane says: "My level of discomfort stayed high through the whole thing--thank goodness for a few laughs. Screenwriter Hanif Kureishi sure is talented, and will see a nom from me for this one for his complicated, morally ambiguous characters. Lead actress Reid will also get a nom, as will cinematography: I was impressed by the framing in the opening scenes--in a film, can I call it metonymy?--and shots that gave a sense of May's isolation, for example. The set-up of May's family life is done superbly without any waste in the first ten minutes: dialogue, sets, camerawork.

"There were two sex scenes in particular that were very good. Both showed only the heads and bare shoulders of the couple. The first was one of the most intimate sex scenes I've seen (ironic contrast to Kureishi's INTIMACY); the second one of the most horrifying. Sets are great here, too: the first in an airy white room with sheer drapes blowing in the breeze; the second in a cramped room panelled with dark wood, with closets that say too much about the resident.

"Michael mentioned how May's lead-into the affair is motherly, and becomes sensual. I want to add that May isn't just looking for good sex: toward the end of the affair she says, 'You know I'll do anything you want. But please talk to me.'

"Bruce mentioned the previous work of Daniel Craig, who does a great job playing Darren. Wish I had seen some of those other films to appreciate his range--he was perfect for this role. (How did I miss him in LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER?) I also agree with Bruce that the score is noteworthy, especially that poignant, yet confident bass toward the end of the film. 4 cats

 
Janet says: "Having been thoroughly impressed---make that temporarily obsessed---with Jane Juska's 2003 book A Round-Heeled Woman (Juska's account of what happened when, at 67, she placed a personal ad that openly stated she was looking for good sex), I was excited about this movie as soon as I saw the trailer.

"Anne Reid plays May, another woman in her sixties, who experiences a sexual reawakening after the death of her husband. Her actions, which some may call desperate while others shout "Right on!" are shown to result almost directly from the fractious and impersonal relationships she has with her neurotic, self-absorbed son and daughter, both living very different lives in the same London neighborhood. The spot-on set decoration and nervy handheld camera work in the opening scenes expertly show her peripheral role in her children and grandchildren's lives.

"May finds herself falling for the carpenter who's adding the conservatory to her yuppie son's apartment. At first the rapport seems sweet and natural, because they are the only two people in the film with any insight, as well as the only two capable of ever sitting still. Those compelled to comment,'Well, what's wrong with that?,' however, will soon reassess. If this is a melodrama, as some have said, it's a melodrama in which no one, or everyone, is the villain.

"Cathryn Bradshaw is May's train wreck of an insecure alcoholic daughter, who believes her mother is a monster, but Reid's performance is so subtle and sympathetic that you will want to forgive her anything. (I'll consider both of them come nomination time.) For ten minutes toward the end, the movie swerves into some over-the-top scenes that betray the characters and almost sink the movie, but other moments reminded me so much of things friends are going through that I couldn't help but chuckle, as did others in the audience. I paraphrase one here:

"Grandson: 'Mummy's been to her therapist.'
May to daughter: 'Is something wrong with you?'

"This is a great discussion movie. To what extent is the mother responsible for her children's emotional and professional failures? What to make of the fact that four of the characters are frustrated artists? It also contains a sex scene so shatteringly unerotic that it should prevent more pregnancies than Margaret Sanger.

"If, like many Chlotrudis members, you're most comfortable being uncomfortable, don't miss this movie. And if the topic interests you, be sure to read the Juska book. 4 cats"

 

Michael says: "Motherhood. In the arts, and to a certain extent, in life, the mother figure is laden with so much baggage. We all have certain expectations when it comes to mothers. Nurturing, self-sacrificing (remember BAMBI?), caring, encouraging. Director Roger Michell (PERSUASION, NOTTING HILL!) and writer Hanif Kureishi (MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE, SAMMY AND ROSIE GET LAID, INTIMACY) have given us a more, if no realistic, three-dimensional picture of a mother.

"And it's a slightly disturbing picture given our deep-rooted images of motherhood. May is a mother of adult children, product of a long, "happy" marriage; a grandmother, to boot. The words we are to associate with May as the film unfolds are caring and obedient. She helps her husband dress, she occupies the grandchildren, she stands silently, demurely, while her husband introduces himself to the handyman... and then eventually introduces her. On a visit to London and her two children, May suddenly finds herself a widow. When she won't follow her son's instructions to sit down and relax, she is called difficult. 'Why shouldn't I be difficult?' May asks. And here is the crux of the story.

"May wasn't the greatest mother, by her own heretofore unvoiced admission, and evidently from the proof of her son and daughter. Yet when she refuses to play the role they would like her to play, even after suffering a tremendous loss, she is expected to play her part. She is labeled difficult. Instead, she decides to do what she has spent many years avoiding... to live.

"Unfortunately, part of her reawakening involves a torrid affair with her daughter's married boyfriend. It's interesting that even May's seduction of Darren, her son's handyman, begins with traditional characteristics of motherhood: preparing lunch, and listening to Darren talk. Yet once the fires of sensuality have been awakened, there is no putting this genie back in the bottle.

"It's also interesting to note how each character in this film is strongly stereotypical, except for May. Bob and I were trying to decide if this was because the film was told from May's point-of-view, or if it was more symbolic. All the characters are also quite self-involved, and this proves to be their undoing.

"As the film nears its conclusion, May finds that her family is unable to accept her as a three-dimensional woman. Even Darren, with whom she has shared many intimacies, fails to grasp the full awakening of May's new life. Director Michell incorporates interesting establishing shots, plays with focus, shoots from odd angles, to good effect, and the acting, particularly Ann Reid as May, is strong.

"THE MOTHER is thought-provoking and well-handled, if at times slightly heavy-handed. While Paula, May's daughter, comes near to having certain depth, she ultimately slips back into the stereotype Kureishi has built for her. Ultimately, this harsh stereotyping worked as a slight detriment for me, in an otherwise powerful film.

"I was fascinated to note midway through the film, the undercurrent of discomfort I was feeling. It wasn't due to the older woman/younger man sexual dynamic, but perhaps that ingrained view of 'the mother' that is part of us all. 3 1/2 cats."

 
Chris says: "As May, the titular character in this button-pressing psycho-sexual character study, Anne Reid is graceful and believable--certainly a worthy candidate for this year's (so-far) slim Best Actress list.

"May and her husband travel from the suburbs to London to visit their children and grandchildren, but the husband dies abruptly. Her distant and rather unpleasant, self-centered family offers her little solace as she tries to make sense of her life as a sheltered housewife. She ends up confiding in Darren (Daniel Craig), a studly yet married carpenter working for her son and sleeping with her daughter. I have to admit that when their friendship took a sudden sexual turn, it felt surprisingly natural.

"However, I had other problems with this film. As Michael mentioned in his review, many of the characters were cliches, especially the whiny, single-mum daughter who had little to say to May apart from the usual "you don't understand me / you never encourage me" drivel. Fortunately, May clearly learns a few epiphanies about herself via her attraction to Darren and its repercussions. The whole older woman/younger man sexual pairing is also something you don't often see onscreen. Still, a few sensationalist plot twists co-exist awkwardly with the film's more contemplative moments. THE MOTHER is quite different from director Roger Michell's subsequent film ENDURING LOVE, right down to its sparse, unobtrusive score. If the latter was an ambitious but flawed Hitchcock pastiche, this is more like a cross between middle-class Mike Leigh and an above-average daytime soap. 3 cats"
 
Hilary says: "I just saw this last night, but hadn't had a chance to post yet.

"Anne Reid is also going on my Best Actress nomination list, which has tripled in size (from one to three women) this week!

"I agree that much of the film feels a bit hollow. I found that it was trying a bit *too* hard, resulting in some clunky visual symbolism and flimsy characters. Clearly, the most attention was given to the character of May, which happily Reid took ran with. 3 cats"