Reviewed by GREG KING
Stars:Albert Brooks, Debbie Reynolds, Rob Morrow, Lisa Kudrow, Isabel Glasser, Peter White, John C McGinley
A number of complex Oedipal issues and dysfunctional family relationships are put under the microscope in this quite funny comedy from writer/director Albert Brooks (Defending Your Life, Lost In America, etc), who has often been described as the west coast Woody Allen. His sharp and satirical tales about flawed and occasionally neurotic people looking for happiness and the meaning of life in contemporary America are filled with angst and self-analysis, but his often cynical style and dark sense of humour are an acquired taste.
With this droll tale about a middle aged man who goes home to live with his mother in an attempt to sort out his own troubled life, Brooks strikes a more laid back approach that makes this his most accessible and effortlessly entertaining film yet. The witty and occasionally poignant script probes the reasons behind the acerbic and uncomfortable relationship between mother and son. Mother is honest, insightful and surprisingly funny, and the script is peppered with one-liners and marvellous observations about relationships that ring true.
Brooks himself plays John Henderson, a popular science fiction author suffering from writer’s block and a mid-life crisis. After two divorces and a series of disastrous relationships, he also lacks confidence with the fairer sex. Friends’ star Lisa Kudrow contributes a brief but memorable early appearance as John’s dizzy date from hell, a clueless beauty whose lack of sophistication seems to encapsulate his problems with the opposite sex.
Deciding that his problems result in some unresolved conflict with his mother Beatrice (Debbie Reynolds), Henderson moves back home, despite her initial misgivings. The last thing Mrs Henderson really needs or wants is one of her own mature age children coming home to live and burdening her with his problems. She is initially a little bewildered by John’s decision to return home, especially when he insists on moving back into his old room, which he enthusiastically redecorates to resemble what it looked like when he was younger. There are some quirky little touches throughout, such as Mrs Henderson’s habit of freezing everything and her annoying little habit of commenting on virtually every aspect of his life to complete strangers, and a couple of shopping expeditions are fraught with embarrassment for Henderson.
In her first starring role in nearly thirty years Reynolds is magnificent and delivers a marvellous comic performance as Mrs Henderson, a woman who has established her own independence and identity, and she quickly establishes a strong presence. Reynolds handles her part with all the seasoned aplomb of a 40 year veteran, and her wonderful performance lifts the material.
Northern Exposure‘s Rob Morrow is also good as his snide and jealous younger brother Jeff, a successful sports agent, who doesn’t quite understand what is happening. Although married with two children, Jeff still clings possessively to her apron strings, ringing her almost everyday, much to his own wife’s disgust. Jeff somehow fears that John’s presence will jeopardise his own strangely Freudian relationship with their mother, and his constant interference only serves to further complicate the situation.
There are moments when Brooks becomes a little self indulgent and the humour lacks bite, but, overall, Mother is an enjoyable and entertaining comedy with a warm and sentimental heart.