I feel as if I've seen The Mother at least five times since 2001. A woman, ranging in age from 40 to 70, discovers that her life, for lack of a better word, sucks. Through some event ranging from the random (meeting a stranger on a street) to the life-altering (husband dies), our heroine gains her independence and finds bottomless passion, even love.
Watching The Mother, it's obvious that director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi, spent a little too much time watching Unfaithful or Bread and Tulips. They offer few original points in their own movie, and express autumnal passion at the expense of common sense. Really, The Mother is as exploitative and flashy as any big-budget summer blockbuster. The only difference is that this movie probably isn't part of a Happy Meal deal.
Set in present day England, May (Anne Reid) and her husband, Toots (Peter Vaughan) are visiting their grown-up children in London, when Toots dies. Not content to grow old in her own house, May moves back to London and moves in with her self-flagellating daughter, Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw).
May quickly falls into a routine, until she becomes better acquainted with her son's handyman (Sylvia's Daniel Craig), who just happens to be Paula's lover. Paula, uncertain over her status with the hunky handyman, enlists Meg to quiz him about the relationship. Instead, May befriends Darren at the same time she begins to experiment with her freedom. That translates into long walks and trips to museums. The next step in this rebirth, logically, is for May to ask Darren to accompany her to the spare bedroom.
Now, I can buy the baby steps of independence, but it takes a Michael Jordan leap of faith to believe that a recent widow would seduce a man half her age, especially when she just unloaded a man she tended to hand and foot. And I find it even harder to believe that a woman of May's experience -- be it on her own or through observations -- would allow herself to fall in love with a rogue like Darren, despite his sinewy assets.
There are too many suspensions of disbelief and not enough internal justification on May's part for any of this to happen without quizzical looks aplenty. Cinematic precedence won't solve the issue, but that's all Michell has. Not only has he helmed a genre piece that has a long history of superior films supporting it, he flagrantly borrows elements from those same films. Anyone with a cable box and free time will notice that Michell frames his shots exactly like R.W. Fassbinder in the great Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and that the youthful demeanor May possesses after her days with Darren (as well as the sunlit rooms she occupies) is a direct lift of Peter Bogdonavich's The Last Picture Show.
Michell's quest for a quiet, observant picture also fails because Kureishi has revelations pouring out of every character. No steady tone exists, no moment when the movie feels true. Michell and Kureishi spend such effort drumming up conflict or getting a rise out of you, they neglect to explain why you should care about these characters and their problems. What should be an affair to remember is one you'll most likely forget.
"Ah, let's make it 14 coffees... and a beer."