Synopsis: No one misunderstands you better.
She packed your lunch. Tolerated your music. And quietly looked forward to the day you’d be happily on your own. If anyone qualifies as unforgettable, it’s Mom. And if there’s a comedy that qualifies as hilarious, it’s Mother.
Albert Brooks is star, co-writer and director of this comic valentine about a twice-divorced author who decided the only way to fix his relationship problems is to move back to his childhood home and solve the problems he had with the first woman in his life – Mom (Debbie Reynolds, winning raves in her first starring role in 27 years). For laughs as only Albert Brooks can deliver, come home to Mother. Also starring Rob Morrow and featuring Lisa Kudrow.
Beatrice Henderson: I love you.
John Henderson: I know you think you do, Mother.
Whether you have a good relationship with your mother or not, there will inevitably be moments of deep frustration and some communication breakdown along the way. For some, it’s even more frustrating than this – their relationship with their mom is more about grudging tolerance than about true acceptance of one another.
Enter John Henderson.
After realizing that his ill-fated relationships with women were all predisposed to failure because of the way he related with his mother, the key female figure in his life, Henderson decides that he wants to revisit so that he may be able to understand what is going amiss in his adult interactions.
Needless to say, the whole film hinges on the dynamics between the mother and son. Thankfully, Reynolds and Brooks are up to the task and paint a completely credible portrait of two people who tolerate each other. But just barely.
As John moves back in, Beatrice looks on in puzzlement; she clearly doesn’t understand why he’s there and what he’s hoping to achieve. She allows him to do his thing, perhaps out of some misplaced sense of obligation, but there is such a huge discrepancy between their realities.
Thus she tries her best to accommodate him, dutifully letting him impose on her life after all these years. Feeling entitled, oblivious to the sacrifices that she is making for him, John revives the unspoken tensions that have long existed between them. He wants things his way even though she can only offer what she has to give.
And thus begins a journey of transformation and understanding for both.
‘Mother’ is rich with humour. In fact, it’s some of Brooks’ finest work. The dialogue is sharp, witty, and his commentary on mother/son relations are on the mark. There are so many things that I can relate to, that I either experienced personally or that rang true because I’ve seen it elsewhere:
– When John tells his mom that she’s “running a food museum here”, I vividly remember our stand-up freezer, encrusted with crystallized fossils that no one could ever hope to recognize.
– When they go grocery shopping together, I recall also being told that the cheap stuff is the same thing as the expensive stuff, but with a different package – that it’s all just a rip-off.
– When John receives only reluctant approval for his achievements, it brings to mind the absurdity of even trying to win half-hearted support.
Brooks is also in terrific form on screen. While he always plays his parts realistically, he sometimes makes them hard to love. In ‘Mother’, not only is he effortlessly credible, he also manages to make John both likeable and perfectly imperfect like human beings are; he made him very real, not stylized in that traditional Hollywood way. This is a selfish man who tries his best to do the right thing, but doesn’t know the best way to go about it.
Debbie Reynolds is quite amazing in this. ‘Mother’ was the first film I’ve seen her in (truth be told, I didn’t know anything about her when I first saw this!) and it remains a standout. The way she portrays a woman torn between her needs and her desire to do “the right thing” is pitch-perfect. And I can finally see Carrie Fisher in her now; I had never seen the resemblance before, but it’s there (if subtly).
Apparently Albert Brooks had approached Doris Day to take the part. I’ve only seen a few of her films and there are a couple that I’m a HUGE fan of. Her comic timing in ‘Send Me No Flowers’ and her sexy charm in ‘Pillow Talk’ draw me to those films time and again. While I can’t imagine anyone but Reynolds in the part, I would have adored seeing what Day would have made of it – even if all we had was audition footage.
My only real beef with the film is when John comes to the conclusion that his mother is a failure. Firstly, I don’t see her as such. I find the word heavy and harsh; a more proper assessment would be to say that she is a flawed human being. My stomach twists in knots at seeing him revel following this newfound observation, because not only does it seem inappropriate, it make him out to be extremely insensitive.
But, otherwise, I love ‘Mother’. Of all of Albert Brooks’ works, this adorable little film is only second to ‘The Muse’ in my books. It’s a relatively realistic slice of life from a man who knows how to find humour in the simplest of moments and, at his best, does so with finesse. ‘Mother’ breezes by with grace and charm. In its exploration of mother/son relationships it satirizes it, comments on it, and does its best to show us that moms are more than our caregivers – they’re people too.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers!