- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

First, this movie should have been called “The Grandmother.” Second, did we really need to see Anne Reid’s waistline breasts?

Sorry to sound so ageist, but “The Mother,” directed by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill,” “Changing Lanes”) from a screenplay by novelist Hanif Kureishi, clearly means to tweak us a little with the sight of a sexagenarian woman doing naughty things.

Naughty things such as sleeping with the gardener. Or was it the milkman? Or the carpenter?

Whatever. The old joke is the same: the good-looking, body-sculpted dude whose job puts him in homes alone with women who are susceptible to feelings of anomie and lust.

But how’s this for turning type on its head? The woman here is in her 60s — by her own description, a “shapeless old lump” — and the good-looking, body-sculpted dude (Daniel Craig) is half her age and sleeping with her daughter.

All together now: Ewwww.

What’s such a woman to do when her children no longer need her mothering and no man desires her touch ? (Well, some men might, as “The Mother” laughs off a boring old codger, played by Oliver Ford Davies, who tries to romance Miss Reid’s May.)

That’s the psychological juice of this British drama, the balance to the icky luridness of the bedroom scenes.

“The Mother” opens with a stylish prologue of May in her final, miserable obligatory hours of playing wet nurse to husband Toots (Peter Vaughn).

The old boy shows a sick, sweaty chin at a family dinner, and by bedtime, he’s cold dead of a heart attack.

May’s children — single mom and writer manque Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw) and wheeler-dealer Bobby (Steven Mackintosh) — think their old mum is going to while away the rest of her years in suburban dotage, playing bridge or bingo.

But, limey, she up and decides to stay in the city and turn into one of them: impulsive, self-centered, sexually free.

Her attraction turns to Darren (Mr. Craig), the ruggedly handsome craftsman who’s building a conservatory at the London home of Bobby and his fashionable wife, Helen (Anna Wilson Jones).

At first, Darren, himself married and father of a disabled child, seems to provide sex to May as a kinky act of charity — but Mr. Kureishi wrote him more complicated than that. He seems genuinely to like her company, her sneaky intelligence, her boldness.

One of the movie’s more comical moments comes as Darren and May half-listen to Paula as she prattles on about how she may give school textbook writing a try if her creative career doesn’t pan out.

Just as funny is when Bobby and Paula discover their mother’s graphically sexual sketches of Darren.

“It’s just fantasy, right? She wouldn’t, would she?”

She would, and she does.

“The Mother,” unfortunately, has the same lamentable problem that the “Friends” sitcom did: It doesn’t know what to do with young children. Mr. Kureishi introduces them loudly. Bobby’s boy and girl are bratty terrors; Paula’s fatherless child is more sensitive.

If Mr. Kureishi was making a point there, it might have been nice to hear more, but the children quickly outlive their usefulness to the sexiness of the central plot. So, after a while, they just disappear.

The movie is strong, though, with its third-act reality check. Darren reveals a nasty side, and Paula reacts badly to being betrayed by her mother.

Poor Paula: She complains throughout “The Mother” of how much May is to blame for her life’s problems and disappointments. “Enough about you; let’s talk about me,” she says in a funny line that’s just a tad too overripe.

What the filmmakers don’t seem to realize is that in their broad-minded feminism, they have turned May into an older version of Paula.

“The Mother” says no one’s too old to act like the me generation.

**

TITLE: “The Mother”

RATING: R (Frank sexuality, nudity; profanity; brief drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by Roger Michell. Produced by Kevin Loader. Written Hanif Kureishi. Cinematography by Alwin Kuchler. Music by Jeremy Sams.

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes.

WEB SITE: https://www.sonyclassics.com/themother

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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