What should be light and funny becomes labored.
"Mother" could be, should be, but just isn't a good movie. Adult children returning to the empty nest could be a good source of humor, especially when the returnee is a man who has failed in five serious relationships and decides to go home to Mom to explore the cause. Unfortunately, the movie just doesn't crackle because Albert Brooks is an actor/writer/director in need of an editor. He has directed this one at a turtle's pace.
John Henderson (Albert Brooks) walks through his mother's door armed with a boomer's baggage: the unquestioned assumption that Beatrice (Debbie Reynolds) has no life of her own and will welcome his return--a gift, he thinks, of his time to her.
At times, Brooks finds perfect targets--food, for example. Mothers are conditioned to deliver affection in the guise of food: "Here, have some more; have you tried this?" It's an eternal babble that can be counted on, always, to fill the emotional void. We can talk forever about food without saying anything. Beatrice's bustling in her kitchen holds John's questions at arm's length.
During a spree at the grocery store, John realizes his mother's tastes are firmly attuned to frozen food and frugality. But Brooks begins to stumble here. After a quick and just right exchange of glances at the ice cream bin--he for the Hagen Das, she for a cheap sherbet--he draws the food metaphor out for far too long. Add to that a nasty habit he has of writing a joke he thinks is terrific (a lettuce leaf stuck to his lip), and then holding it on film for an interminably dull moment.
Beatrice's second self-protection mechanism is her need to explain everything to everybody. To her friends as well as to the underwear salesman, she explains the presence of her wayward son in compulsive detail. Debbie Reynolds is very good at all this.
With a funny and familiar maternal mix of quick perceptions and out-to-lunchness, she becomes everybody's mother. She acts with sly understatement, understanding far more than she admits to, but given the few areas of fun--food and guilt primarily--she has to sustain too little for too long. What should be light and funny becomes labored. The connective tissue between laughs is too thin.
Two other mistakes diminish the movie: a truly awful performance by Rob Morrow as the favored brother, and clothes so relentlessly drab they could only have been designed by a city dweller who imagines the suburbs in varying shades of muddy brown. These are the worst dressed people you will see all year.
In a gesture that should be mandatory for every adult child, John invites Beatrice to a quiet, elegant restaurant for dinner. Free of food preparation and on neutral turf, they begin to know each other as adults. It's a nice moment of humor and poignancy, one of several that stand out in the otherwise long haul. Parting thought: Come back again, Debbie Reynolds.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Paramount
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 1h44m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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