The Mother

More suburban issue exploration from Hanif Kureishi, unfortunately crushingly boring issues no matter how worthy.

Released in 2003, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 23 Nov 2003 by Scott Morris
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Being old is rarely presented as much fun, and the opening gambit of The Mother does little to change this situation. After a short show of the boring drudgery of everyday life as an old couple who seem to have little to do in life except wait to die, May's (Anne Reid) worryingly named husband Toots (Peter Vaughan) does just that while visiting their fully grown offspring.

Dear lord, the evil that has sprung from this woman's womb. There's nothing overtly wrong with Bobby apart from a lack of taste in the woman department. Overworking to save his business which is being ruined by his wife Paula's obsession with running a doomed cashmere shop he's only seen in glimpses, rushing off for meeting after endless meeting. Only towards the film's conclusion when he confesses that things aren't going swimmingly and he's a little less minted than he seemed to be does he feel like a complete character.

May's daughter Helen (Anna Wilson-Jones) however, is one of the most astonishingly irritating characters committed to celluloid this side of Full Frontal. A whining, selfish, insecure, brattish new-age annoyance of a teacher that enters the exclusive pantheon of characters you would never tire of slapping, such people certainly exist in the world in more quantities than you'd care to mention but I don't seek their company out during everyday life and I certainly don't want to pony up money to see them on the big screen. Grrr.

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The meat of this cinematic meal comes in the form of May's relationship with Bobby's old uni friend Darren (Daniel Craig) who's busy building a conservatory on Bobby's house. The two quickly go from having a respectful friendship to a physical relationship, the only real controversy being that Darren is already making the beast with two backs with Helen. If there's anyone shocked at the thought of a spot of grey sex they ought to avoid this but the only real disturbance up this film's sleeve is Darren's unusual transgeneration antics.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the presentation of Darren and May's relationship and it's progression all the way to its inevitable Freud baiting climax. It is utterly believable in it's own turgid everyday tedium, well acted in it's excruciating dullness. This is unlikely to present a problem for the target audience of the movie, Hanif Kureishi being the acknowledged master of suburban situations with the kind of characters seen in every sleepy street in the country. His talent is also his curse, his gifts his downfall. The problem with everyday characters in everyday situations (well, compared to saving the world from aliens and whatnot) is that we see the same characters and situations everyday.

Will this entice me to pay good money to see it? Well, it's a film, so the answer is obviously yes. But for people more acquainted with sanity and the idea of actually having a life will the same hold true? I'm not so sure. I'm not averse to a spot of character study goodness and well written family dramas but I'm not sure I was looking at it for the duration of this film. There is one simple reason for this - it bored me.

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I feel this somehow makes me a bad person. After all, there's very little to fault in the acting performances. The script captures a certain melancholic quality of ageing before May goes on an understandable rebellion against it. I can't help feel that I should have found its message a little less obvious, that more should have been taken away from it. That all I could garner from it is that 'getting old blows' and a subtle variation on the 'you're only as old as the man you feel' gag seems to cast a shameful pallor on my character but I honestly don't see that the story is any deeper or complex than that.

Notting Hill director Roger Michell does a better job than you might expect given his pedigree, everything kept well focused. It would have been appreciated more if there was something interesting to focus on. There's enough of a technical basis and reasonably though provoking thematic content to save this from a one star indignation but it's almost grudgingly given. I really found little to enjoy in this, the only breaks in boredom coming from the irritation gleaned from Helen's incessant whining. Hardly a glowing recommendation.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Roger Michell
Cast list:
Anne Reid (May)
Peter Vaughan (Toots)
Anna Wilson-Jones (Helen)
Daniel Craig (Darren)
Harry Michell (Harry)
Rosie Michell (Rosie)
Steven Mackintosh (Bobby)
Cathryn Bradshaw (Paula)
Carlo Kureishi (Jack)
Sachin Kureishi (Jack)
Oliver Ford Davies (Bruce)