The Mother

2003, Movie, R, 112 mins

Review

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Director Roger Michell's career to date has been an interesting series of high-profile studio projects with top-name casts (NOTTING HILL, CHANGING LANES) alternating with smaller, character-driven British films (TITANIC TOWN, PERSUASION) that feature excellent actors little known beyond London's West End. Written by novelist Hanif Kureishi, this well-acted but dramatically flawed look at an intergenerational love affair between a younger man and a woman old enough to be his mother falls into the latter category. A sharp, economical opening montage establishes the dynamic between sixtysomething May (Anne Reid) and her husband, Toots (Peter Vaughan), as they prepare to visit their grown children: Their relationship is comfortable, co-dependent and not entirely happy. It becomes clear that May's life has been circumscribed by both her husband's needs and the mores of her pre-feminist generation. But shortly after dinner with their daughter and son, Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw) and Bobby (Steven Mackintosh), everything suddenly changes. Toots suffers a massive coronary and dies. Alone for the first time in decades, May returns to her suburban home but finds it unbearable. It's not just her husband's unexpected absence, but what his passing signifies: May has grown old. So she returns to London for an extended stay with Bobby — much to the chagrin of his selfish and uptight wife, Helen (Anna Wilson-Jones) — and soon learns that Darren (Daniel Craig), the old college chum who's slowly adding a conservatory extension onto Bobby's swank townhouse, is also Paula's lover. Darren has promised to one day leave his wife, and self-obsessed Paula asks her mother to press him on the subject. May, however, is brimming with an unhappy wife's newfound freedom as a widow and winds up falling in love with the younger man herself. After an awkward kiss, she invites him into her bed. Not since Louis Malle brought Josephine Hart's Damage to the screen has infidelity hit so uncomfortably close to home. The film is marvelously acted all around, and the fact that there isn't a false note in the entire film is especially impressive given Kureishi's melodramatic contrivances and the fact that his characters are clichés whose behaviors are predictable at nearly every turn. Michell skirts the potential sensationalism in the subject matter and his pacing is flawless: It's positively nerve-wracking to watch as May and Darren's very carnal affair inches ever closer to Paula's consciousness. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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