ritish import The Mother is the story of a recently widowed, 65-ish woman who drifts into an affair with her daughter’s raffish builder boyfriend. You might call it How Mum Got Her Groove Back.
If only she had.
At the beginning, when said mother and her longtime husband arrive for a family
visit in London (a few scenes before he dies of a heart attack), it’s as if they’ve
wandered into the wrong movie. They’d obviously be much more comfortable in a
charming countryside indie than in their son and daughter-in-law’s chilly, spare
home accented with stainless steel and surly grandchildren. Soon enough, the
camera offers us a “This guy’s trouble!” shot of a bloke named Darren building
an addition out back (a “conservatory,” in case you didn’t hate these people
already). Darren and the son are old buddies. Darren and The Mother’s daughter,
Paula, an aspiring writer, are sleeping together.
By “aspiring,” I mean “self-hating.” And naturally, Paula blames her mother for everything. Prompted by nothing in particular, The Daughter lets loose with a tirade that does not endear me to her therapist: “You hardly touched me. You never praised me or encouraged me. I never felt valued. That is why I’m doing it with a married man on the fucking floor!”
Oh yeah, Darren’s married. And a druggie. But Paula insists “he’s an artistic and gentle and very sweet man. He’s just, you know, very, very weak as well.” To make sure we understand the tormented paradox that is Darren, the screenwriter assigns him a cheerfully autistic son. Daddy, of course, is utterly devoted.
Desperate to know if Darren will leave his wife for her, Paula forgets a cardinal rule of relationships: the messenger
creeps me out isn’t that she’s sleeping with her daughter’s boyfriend.
It’s that Mum actually falls for this creep.
always gets the man. (Not to mention, the man never leaves his wife.) She sends Mum on a reconnaissance mission (“Perhaps you could sort of get talking to him and find out how he’s feeling about me…?”). One tea leads to another, Darren and Mum wind up in bed, and Mum starts wearing lipstick again and smoking. The first sex scene is shot unblinkingly, yet gently. It’s nice, I have to say. Mum’s enjoying herself; you’re rooting for her.
But not for long. What creeps me out isn’t that she’s sleeping with her daughter’s boyfriend. (I’m pretty sure Martha Stewart did the same thing, and I’m still a fan.) It’s that Mum actually falls for this creep. I am telling you, this guy is no Taye Diggs. Darren is not the irresistible rogue who coaxes Mum out of her pain cave. Oh, no. He is a charmless jackass. He sleeps with Mum and makes out with Paula in front of her. When he decides to get the hell outta Dodge, he snickers at Mum’s offer to come along, but he’s only too grateful to let her pay for his ticket. And later, after a few lines of coke, he has the balls to accuse her of using him. This is after he’s directed her to blow him in the conservatory, which she does while asking him to "be gentle” and talk to her. What’s supposed to be poignant is just painful. Instead of redeeming, it’s just kind of embarrassing. Does Mum learn, grow, move on, start to live anew? Not so much. What she walks away with — I’m giving nothing away here — is not a yummy memory, a sly grin or a spring in her step, but rather a dull sense of, “Well, that sucked.”
You will hear that this movie breaks taboos, but since
when is it taboo to depict a vulnerable woman who’s smitten with a cad? What
should be a truly juicy thing to explore here — and might be if I could
stand to be in the same room with Paula — is their off-the-charts mother-daughter
jealousy and competition. But instead, the film made me long for some hint of
the very family bond that it’s sadly, head-smackingly, missing. Who’s there to
tell you he’s not going to leave his wife? Who’s there to tell you just because
he slept with you doesn’t mean he’s your boyfriend? Well, The Sister.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Lynn Harris is author of the satirical novel Death By Chick Lit and its prequel, Miss Media, as well as co-creator of the award-winning website BreakupGirl.net. A regular contributor to Glamour, Salon, The New York Times, Babble and many others, she also writes the "Rabbi’s Wife" column for Nextbook.org. Visit her at LynnHarris.net.