The Mother

James Bond gets it on with a 60-something grandmother in a provocative, intelligent film.



No demographic group has been more ignored by today's film industry than the elderly (Jack Nicholson movies don't count). For all the self-promotion and deliberate provocation displayed by the likes of Lars von Trier, Todd Solondz, or Harmony Korine, modern independent filmmakers haven't shown nearly the courage that their 1970s counterparts did, humanely exploring the confluence of sex and aging in such films as Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude and German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.


Leave it to writer Hanif Kureishi to rectify that problem. Written by Kureishi and directed by Roger Michell, The Mother is the story of a recently widowed 60-something grandmother who engages in a sexual affair with her daughter's married boyfriend. If that sounds shocking, it is, but not for the reasons you might think.


The Mother begins by playing to our assumptions about aging, making its eventual subversion all the more potent. May (Anne Reid) and her husband, who goes by the boyish nickname Toots, are traveling to London to visit their grandchildren. Michell uses his camera succinctly to establish the couple's routines—May helping Toots on with his shirt, his slippers left waiting by the door—the procession of domestic banalities that will eventually taper off into death.


Yet when Toots dies in London, May comes alive. While living with her daughter Paula, she befriends Paula's boyfriend Darren (Daniel Craig), a carpenter building an addition to her son Bobby's house. As their intimacy grows, so does May's desire, a development that inevitably brings the underlying tensions between May and her two children boiling to the surface.


Daring material, but Kureishi and Michell are more than up to it. Kureishi's debut film, My Beautiful Laundrette, featured the similarly risk-laden subject of interracial homosexual romance in the pre-Ellen year of 1985. Though also the director of Notting Hill, Michell's Changing Lanes was one of the best films of 2002.


The interplay between Kureishi's ruthless emotional honesty and Michell's almost clinical detachment from his characters could have made The Mother a demoralizing experience. No one is flawless here, especially May. Yet Reid gives her character a vulnerability and intelligence that make it impossible not to empathize with her. It's one of the best female performances you'll see this year.


Even knowing what May is doing with Darren, viewers will share Paula's and Bobby's shock when they discover their mother's collection of erotic pencil sketches. It is a brilliant moment, the unquenchable lust for life revealed in all its rawness. That alone makes The Mother one of this year's must-see films.


--Joshua Avram

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