PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Y’see that exclamation point in the title?
And do you notice the lower-case “m” kicking it off?
Well, let the offbeat punctuation alert you to the fact that mother! traffics in the unexpected and exudes too-much-ness – especially in its third act.
You are hereby forewarned.
mother! is, on the surface, a visceral home-invasion thriller. But on the surface is not where it lives, its home-turf genre difficult if not impossible to identify.
Aronofsky-ish may be its most appropriate label because it emerges from the mind of writer-director Darren Aronofsky.
It’s also a psychological, allegorical relationship drama about a marriage, a dark vision about angst and helplessness that holds onto and then springs a few twists and turns that may not only surprise but infuriate.
Formulaic it is anything but: sometimes it’s spooky, sometimes it’s thoughtful, sometimes it’s hallucinatory, sometimes it’s disturbing.
And late in the game it’s a cinematic nervous breakdown.
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star as childless marrieds: he’s an influential, spectacularly self-absorbed and self-important poet and is much older than his spouse; she, his mistreated muse, works on the house and is visited by visions that she then has to deal with.
Their relationship and essentially tranquil existence is sorely tested when they are visited by an uninvited couple played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer – although none of them are assigned proper names — then by more and more guests, including their first guests’ sons (brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson), then by misgivings about the way they are living.
But that description is just a springboard for the cinematic musings of Aronofsky, the Oscar-nominated director of 2010’s Black Swan whose resume also includes Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, and Noah.
The director shoots the film almost exclusively from the title character’s point of view, so that her experience is ours as well. It also means that the film rests squarely on Lawrence’s shoulders and facial closeups of her predominate.
The central mystery, if that’s what we choose to call it, deepens as the film proceeds, and themes emerge — such as the treatment of women by men, the total self-absorption of artists, and the treatment of the environment by us – and the house is essentially a character as well.
Seemingly otherworldly, unwelcome events then ensue: let’s leave it at that.
Exactly what this unusual, expressionistic film is about will be the source of many a post-viewing argument. Suffice it to say that about the only honest way to respond to that question is that it’s about two hours.
Regardless, it’s certainly uncommon for what might be perceived as a horror chiller to boast the kind of Academy Award credentials on display here, with Oscar winners Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and Bardem (No Country For Old Men) and multiple Oscar nominees Harris (4) and Pfeiffer (3), along with Kristen Wiig (1) in the principal cast.
But this is not an actors’ movie; it’s Aronofsky’s.
So we’ll visit 2 stars out of 4 for the initially compelling but eventually ridiculously contrived mother! If M is for the million things she gave us, o-t-h-e-r is for the rest of Aronofsky’s highfalutin headscratcher.