26 March 2010

The Mother (2003)

Performances Keep The Mother True and Juicy
By Kristin Battestella

Yes, I’ve been making good on my promise to watch more Daniel Craig movies. After reading the details for 2003’s The Mother, well I just had to check this one out!

After visiting with their son Bobby (Steven Mackintosh) and daughter Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw), May’s (Anne Reid) husband Toots (Peter Vaughn) has a heart attack and dies. Not willing to go home and waste away like so many other widows, May stays in the city, unsure of how to move on with her life. Unfortunately, her daughter-in-law Helen (Anna Wilson-Jones) doesn’t want her in the house anymore than Bobby does. When May moves in with Paula, she puts a cramp in her lifestyle, too-for Paula is having an affair with married carpenter Darren (Craig). With nothing to do during the day, May visits with Darren as he works on building Bobby’s conservatory. They talk, have lunch, tour London, and eventually begin a sexual relationship that could destroy the entire family.

In some ways, the less you know about director Roger Michell’s (Persuasion, Notting Hill) and writer Hanif Kureishi’s (London Kills Me) little film, the better. Yes, maybe the kinky speculation gets you in the door, but The Mother is far more than some older woman’s fantasy. Though thoroughly British in locales, styles, and tone; there is a universal family feeling to The Mother. Maybe the sexual turns the film takes are fantastical, but the revealing family dynamics here paint a grim and accurate picture of how we treat- or don’t treat- the elderly. Bobby and Paula don’t bat an eye when their father passes away, the grandkids don’t recognize May and Toots when they see them, and despite everything that happens, they expect May to go away as quick as she came so their seemingly cushy but obviously imperfect London lives can go on as usual. Well, hardy har har!

The MotherVeteran actress Anne Reid (Coronation Street, Peak Practice, Bleak House) is a breath of fresh as May in The Mother. I don’t often like remakes, but I dare say The Mother deserves a tour de force American version that will get noticed by audiences. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a graceful, older American actress who would take such a role, much less do it any better than Reid’s BAFTA nominated performance. May is selfish, imperfect, flawed and wrecking her own family with her whims. She is free of her nursemaid obligations to her husband, and her family would much prefer that she just went away and did her own thing. We don’t like to admit it, but perhaps we know a pesky relative like May that is not just a burden, but a serious annoyance. We should hate her, yet she’s the most likeable person in the piece. The audience feels sorry for May. Her relationship needs, regrets, and guilty conscious are understandable. We don’t fault her one bit for trying to move on after spending her entire life in the old-fashioned, subservient shadow of her husband. Reid exceptional balances the elderly, confused, and tired aspects of May along with the fun, vital, and sexually frank scenes- in some ways, Reid is perfectly matched onscreen with Daniel Craig. May fuels the dynamics on display, and as much as we may want to look away, she won’t let us.

By contrast, us young people can absolutely relate to son Steven Mackintosh (Underworld: Evolution), his wife Anna Wilson-Jones (Hotel Babylon, Hex) and daughter Cathryn Bradshaw (Red Riding). Bobby is a rich yuppie who can’t control his own finances thanks to living beyond their means wife Helen. Paula pretends she is a talented teacher and artist, but she’s really a divorced, clingy nobody putting demands on her lover that can never be met. We have a piece of them in all of us, and perhaps that is what makes this wannabe generation even more unlikable. It’s not only that they don’t reach out to May because of their own whiny problems, but they also blame her for interfering with their lives just because she’s there. Bradshaw is particularly wonderfully unlikable as Paula. She blames her mother for all her psychological troubles, but we hardly seen hers and Bobby’s children in the film, either. Both are making the same mistakes as May might have done, but they are clearly giving her the ‘don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out’. These bitter relationships are the heart of The Mother.

At first glance, female fans of Daniel Craig would think The Mother is thee film for a post-menopausal ladies’ movie night, but this is not necessarily the case. Handyman Darren is far from the perfect James Bond hottie fans expect. Despite the revealing sex scenes, much of Craig’s look and behavior here is actually unattractive. He’s married with an autistic son, but having an affair with both Paula and her sixty-plus mother. He has no money, drinks and does drugs, and never finishes his carpentry projects. He’s no stud by any means, but Darren is the only person who shows any kind of sympathy or affection for May. Craig balances Reid with charm, frankness, and honesty about his fears of growing old and wasting away. In some ways, I’d rather their relationship continued on this mature, almost maternal and intimate level, rather than turning sexual, but therein is the question that The Mother is asking. Why should May not be sexually interested in a younger man? Why wouldn’t Darren find her attractive all around? What does her kids say have to do with it? We don’t want to be told we’re too old for this or that, but we push our elderly out the door and use them as they use us. Craig’s role as the man in the middle of these ideologies is not an easy part, but it might be the best work I’ve seen from him yet. Is it an Oscar worthy performance? Not quite, but again, The Mother proves Craig is capable of much more. Someone please put him and Sean Bean together again already!

Naturally, the subject matter here is not for young audiences or traditionalists and prudes. Not only may some find watching old people have sex makes them uncomfortable, but some of the sexual scenes are hot and heavy, too. American viewers not familiar with the slower British styles and London locales might also find The Mother ill paced and tough to understand. The now out of print DVD was somewhat bare, except for a short behind the scenes featurette and a director’s commentary, but there are subtitles for the English speaking folks who have a problem with, well, English English. Though not for all, The Mother is an intriguing look at the way we treat older relatives and how maturing sexuality can disturb and upset us. I was yelling at the television and gasping the entire time, but also intelligently pleased and satisfied with The Mother. For every shocking sexual turn, I was also struck by the ‘ain’t it the truth’ family behavior. A tough film to watch, yes- I don’t recommend one watch The Mother with his or her mother- but it’s worth the viewing. Fans of the cast and mature, avant-garde audiences should spend some time with The Mother tonight.

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