Saturday, September 16, 2017

mother! starring Jennifer Lawrence

Yes, the title is in lower case letters -- as if it was written by e.e. cummings.  Jennifer Lawrence.  One talented young actress.  She's got 4 Oscar nominations to her credit.  She won the Best Actress Oscar for 2012's SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.  And she's only 27.  Her new film is an intense, often incomprehensible psychological thriller in which her character has no name.  She is simply...mother.  I saw the film.  The first thing you need to know is that this is NOT a first date film for a Saturday night.  In fact, when I left the theater, I thought to myself, "I am so glad I did not take a date to see that movie."
I like Jennifer Lawrence.  But, to be honest, I went to see it because I love Javier Bardem and Michelle Pfeiffer.  Bardem plays the acclaimed writer husband.
Pfeiffer plays the wife of a fan who just shows up and becomes an annoying house guest.  The wife, like her husband, also wears out her welcome.  That's the character.  Personally, I am thrilled that Michelle Pfeiffer has time to do movies again.  She almost steals the film from Jennifer Lawrence and she's only in half of it.  When I saw it, the audience loved Pfeiffer -- but it didn't love the film.  The wife's husband is played very well by Ed Harris.  Oh.  No one has a name in this movie.  It's "mother," "Him" (the husband) "Man" (Ed Harris), "Woman" (Michelle Pfeiffer) and so on.

Man smokes in the house when Mother has politely asked him not to smoke.  Woman goes into rooms she's been told are private and touches items she was asked not to touch.

This is the kind of story that could not have happened in Compton, California or in a Harlem townhouse.  Had Mother been a Black or Latina woman, she'd have gone upside the heads of that overbearing couple with a skillet in the first act.  In the second act, she'd have said "Oh, hell, no!" as she grabbed her keys, purse, phone and caught a cab to the nearest police precinct.

Lawrence is shot constantly in tight close-up. Within the first five minutes, we sense a dissonance in her situation.  She's young and lovely.  The first clue that something will go wrong is that she and her writer husband live alone in a huge house in the woods that she's renovating.  A house in a remote location. There's no visible evidence of neighbors or other nearby buildings.  You don't even see a drive-way.  Think of all the horror movies since the 1930s FRANKENSTEIN features that had a big, secluded house or castle and a monstrous entity on the loose.

When the husband enters the close-ups with the wife, he always seems to avert her direct gaze.  The acclaimed writer has had a stretch of writer's block.  We get the feeling that he blames it on her.  She keeps taking some kind of medicine.  Is she sick or is she pregnant?  But he seems to avoid having sex with her.  Is he closeted gay or just WTF is going on?

You might think it's going to be a ROSEMARY'S BABY kind of thriller because the ad echoes the poster for Polanski's 1968 classic starring Mia Farrow.

Remember the 2000 thriller WHAT LIES BENEATH?  This is sort of WHAT LIES BENEATH THE FLOORBOARDS.  Then, when dozens of people keep charging into her house uninvited and proceed to eat, drink, telephone, renovate, sleep or whatever...it's like WHAT LIES BENEATH meets the famous  stateroom scene with Groucho Marx in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA.
She orders folks out but no one listens to her.  They only listen to the husband.  When she discovers that she's pregnant, the husband's has a surge in writing creativity and all seems idyllic.  Then the movie gets hallucinogenic and brutal.  You also keep wondering if there's a dying body beneath the floorboards.

Is this a statement on the artist as narcissist? A statement on how a woman's freedom and rights are marginalized?  Is this a statement on Catholicism -- zeroing in on the Communion ritual in which we Catholics are told the wafer we're eating represents the body and blood of Christ?  The last act and most visually surreal one of MOTHER! has just about everything but that Pushmi-Pullyu from the old movie musical DR. DOOLITTLE in it.

I kept wondering "How freakin' huge is this white girl's house?!?!?"  There's practically half a Third World nation in her living room.

MOTHER!  Visually fascinating but I don't know what the heck this allegory is trying to say.  But, man, I sure did love Michelle Pfeiffer in this Darren Aronofsky film.
For a good psychological thriller you can follow, rent GET OUT ...or 1968's ROSEMARY'S BABY.







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