Traumatizing Sex

'The Mother' is a good film--but you'll probably only want to see it once

The Mother starts off as a sad story about a woman in her late 60s who loses her husband, becomes confused about her identity and winds up speechless, sitting in one of her children's spare rooms. Then, that very same woman starts sexing up the town and horrifying said children, who had predictably relegated her to a lonely widow's life of baby-sitting and making tea.

Sixty-nine-year-old actress Anne Reid plays May, a quiet grandmother tending to her husband, Toots (Peter Vaughan), and his unreachable shoelaces. The two go to visit their family in London, only to have Toots take one long walk too many. A widowed May returns to her flat, but decides that she'd rather kill herself than stay home. Her son Bobby (Steven Mackintosh) attempts to give her a temporary landing platform, but May wanders out into the streets.

She winds up at the home of daughter Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw), content to be a baby sitter while Paula goes out with a new beau. That beau is Darren (Daniel Craig), Bobby's good friend and carpenter currently laboring in Bobby's costly home extension. Paula and Darren have loud sex while May supposedly sleeps upstairs, but sleep seems to be the last thing on May's mind. She wants to get it on.

May and Darren start talking over tea, and before long, the two are in Bobby's spare room having honest-to-God sex. Darren is half her age, yet the two are remarkably comfortable around one another, sharing art, laughing at each other's jokes and, oh yeah, having lots and lots of graphic, somewhat frightening, dirty, dirty sex.

For a good portion of the May-Darren romance, it seems that director Roger Michell's goal is to show that love transcends age, that the death of a loved one should not be the end of one's romantic being and inner spirit. Well, all that is bullshit, because that's not what this movie is about at all. Here's to Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi for daring to make the kind of straightforward, often hideous film that can be made out of this subject.

In the end, this movie is about a bunch of jerks: a thoughtless, selfish mother; a daughter with piss-poor self esteem; a fledgling-married carpenter who seems to have missed the day "loyalty" was covered in grammar school vocabulary class; and a host of other frightening people (most of them having deplorable, unspeakably disgusting sex). The only lovable person in this film is Toots, and he dies 15 minutes in.

Credit Reid for delivering one of the braver performances to hit screens this year; the same goes for Craig, who does a rather convincing job of having sex with her. I guess I'm talking about sex too much in this review, but you must trust me: The sight of Reid and Craig "doing the dog" is quite traumatizing, and were you to write a critique of this film, you too might find yourself dwelling on this haunting topic.

Before wrapping this review up, I'd like to send big congratulations to Peter Vaughan who, once again, dies beautifully on film. You might remember him as Anthony Hopkins' pop in The Remains of the Day, in which he died with the best of them. He's just one of those actors, like the legendary Ernest Borgnine, who you know will die within moments of appearing on film. This is a good thing, for he is a seasoned pro.

So, proceed with caution to The Mother. It's a good film, albeit a dark, disturbing, ugly film in which classically inappropriate partners have raucous, nauseating, damned-near apocalyptic sex. While I am ultimately impressed in a twisted, depraved sort of way, I most certainly insist upon never seeing it again. Once is more than enough.

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