|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 13 February 2001|
"Mother" is a droll look at one grown man’s earnest if curdled attempts to figure out why his relationship with his mother – and by extension, all the other women in his life – is so fraught with criticism, misunderstanding and embarrassment.
When his second wife divorces him, science-fiction novelist John Henderson (Albert Brooks) feels the need to examine his life and therefore comes up with an unusual method of exploring his emotional problems. In what he terms "an experiment," John moves back into the home of his mother Beatrice (Debbie Reynolds), even recreating his old room from his high school days in an effort to figure out why all of his male-female relationships self-destruct. Mother is nonplused by her firstborn’s return to the nest, as she has a life of her own and a very set way of doing things.
The wit in the script by director/star Brooks & Monica Johnson is in its nuances. Any film can show a mother urging her grown son to eat, but it takes "Mother" to show the duo locked in polite but stubborn combat over whether economical frozen salad and ancient sherbet covered in "protective ice" is better than the fresher, more expensive stuff found at the supermarket. Despite her eccentricities, Beatrice is not depicted as a caricature; indeed, much of the point here is that John’s problems stem partly from his inability to see Beatrice as a person in her own right, rather than simply as his parent.
As John, Brooks employs his customary semi-self-absorbed, neurotic but articulate screen persona, filling the custom-designed bill well. Reynolds is an ideal mixture of patrician courtesy and rocklike intransigence, with a shrewdness that belies the character’s occasional bouts of vagueness.
The imagery is generally Southern California-bright, transferred sharply to the DVD. Sound is clean but rather quiet, with the center-channel dialogue a bit low even when there’s absolutely nothing except room ambience to accompany it – viewers may want to raise the volume on their system for the duration of the film. Background noise is nicely varied but sometimes seems slightly artificially separated from the dialogue. The musical score is spread evenly throughout mains and rears, with an instrument that sounds like a tuba creating a humorous bass effect from time to time.
The dialogue is consistently smart, not going for hard punchlines so much as smiles of recognition. As a filmmaker, Brooks eschews both mean-spiritedness and schmaltz in favor of a tone of mildly neurotic affection. There are barbs here, but they never get too ugly. Brooks consistently provides the feeling that there’s a new revelation just around the corner. His climactic epiphany is a little on the overly-tidy side, but his style is both idiosyncratic and easy to watch. In "Mother," Brooks taps into some near-universal truths about dealing with family in entertaining fashion without making us cringe. This is a rare and commendable (if not earth-shaking) accomplishment.