Roger Michell’s The Mother begins with May (Anne Reid) and her husband Toots (Peter Vaughan) traveling to London to visit their grown children. After Toots’s sudden death, May falls for the married handyman who’s working on her son’s home and sleeping with her demanding daughter, who uses her father’s death to unearth old wounds. Hanif Kureishi, who wrote the screenplay, has a way of bluntly tapping into the core of human pain and ecstasy, two sensations often indistinguishable from each other in Stephen Frears’s My Beautiful Laundrette and Patrice Chéreau’s Intimacy. Kureishi’s use of contrast is playful, and though his prose is heavily anecdotal, it never sounds showy. The romantic imbroglios that drive his novels and screenplays present difficult cultural challenges to both their characters and their audiences. The Mother is a daring work, not because it features a septuagenarian woman happily fucking a stud nearly half her age (Fassbinder showed us that in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), but because it illuminates a dark psychological terrain between parents and children and lovers of two vastly different ages. After her husband’s death, May tells her son that she’s afraid to sit down at the risk of never being able to stand up. It’s a raw, heartbreaking sentiment. Her husband’s death tempts her to give up on life, but her perpetually busy and disinterested son trivializes her emotions. “Why shouldn’t I be difficult?” she yells at him, the first sign that she may not be ready to give up on life. There are many such moments in The Mother, and all of them contemplate a sad disconnect between the old and the young: Just as the cries of a young child seemingly summon Toots to his death, the sound of a young couple having sex lifts May from her funk. “What do you see, a shapeless old lump?” says May to Darren (Daniel Craig), who makes her feel wanted by willingly reaching out to her in the way her own children won’t. Pity that Michell (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes) shoots Kureishi’s material as if it were a spread for Modern Living (is it a coincidence then that the jazzy Jeremy Sams score recalls the music for The Sims?). Michell’s aesthetic is cold, impersonal, and self-conscious in the same way that Kureishi’s script is raw, honest, and unpretentious. In essence, Michell directs like the very prude Kureishi loathes. Though the film almost demands to be heard rather than actually seen, don’t take your eyes off Reid, whose performance is a thing of rare beauty.
The film's Modern Living aesthetic may not exactly befit the material, but it's sure pretty to look at. Now, if there's a problem with the transfer it's that whites are overblown and colors are overly saturated at times. The Dolby Digital surround track is very good: the excellent Jeremy Sams score resonates powerfully throughout, and dialogue is crystal clear.
Because the commentary track by director Roger Michell and producer Kevin Loader more or less focuses on performance aspects of the film, it makes for a consistently lively listen. The funniest bit: Rachel Weitz was considered for a role in the film and the producer thought it would be funny if the actress could say she acted in a film called The Mummy followed by one called The Mother. Rounding out the disc is a horrendous featurette that scarcely runs three-and-a-half minutes, the film's U.K. trailer, and previews for Facing Windows, Bon Voyage, Young Adam, and Zelary.
Yes, folks, people over 50 still like to get their groove on.