[Screen It]


(2017) (Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: A young woman must contend with a growing number of strangers who take over her home, all while her husband welcomes them without question.
A young woman (JENNIFER LAWRENCE) -- noted as "Mother" in the credits but never in the film, like everyone else -- is married to an older writer, "Him" (JAVIER BARDEM) and is helping refurbish his large, remote house that burned down before she met him. While he struggles with writer's block, she happily works on the home, but is startled when he allows a stranger, "Man" (ED HARRIS), to enter the house and spend the night. He's followed by his wife, "Woman" (MICHELLE PFEIFFER) who pries into Mother's personal life, invades her space, and won't pay attention to stated boundaries. After Man and Woman break something of great value to Him, their adult children, "Oldest Son" (DOMHNALL GLEESON) and "Youngest Brother" (BRIAN GLEESON), show up and squabble over what should be theirs.

The leads to a murder and then more strangers showing up at the house, some of them followers of Him and his work and others who are just interlopers. As things spiral out of control, the now very pregnant Mother must contend with the increasing chaos that's surrounding her and engulfing her house, unaware of how things will ultimately play out.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Films come in all shapes, sizes and genres and some work solely on a superficial level where what you see is what you get. There's no subtext, message or anything of that sort of ilk, and that's perfectly fine as long as such movies succeed in their singular mission. Then there are others that are designed to work on multiple levels such as "Field of Dreams" (my go-to example of recent).

On its most basic level, it's a baseball flick as mixed with a family drama about economic hard times. Dig deeper, however, and you'll find a film all about faith, unresolved father-son dynamics, the repercussions of life-changing decisions and so on. The beauty of such films is that audiences go in expecting one basic thing and come out with a much deeper experience.

Either sort of movie is fine in my books, but if one is going for multiple levels, the ones deeper than the superficial shouldn't override the basic story, get too heavy-handed, come off as pretentious and so on, lest they run the risk of alienating viewers who've come in expecting a certain sort of flick, especially if such expectations stem from the studio's marketing.

All of which brings us around to "mother!" a multi-layer film that on its surface looks like it might be a haunted house type movie or a domestic thriller. It's sort of both but so much more and it's teeming with all sorts of allegorical aspirations, including but apparently not limited to being a Biblical tale, a cautionary one about putting one's art and related idolatry above everything else, a parable about how humanity is destroying Earth, and how women and their roles in life and marriages are often marginalized.

Yes, it's chock-full of themes, layers, subtext and more, but does that make it a good, let alone great film? Alas, it does not, and that's despite it being helmed by writer/director Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan," "The Wrestler"); its characters being played by Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer; and having terrific cinematographer Matthew Libatique behind the camera.

The first sign of trouble of pretentious filmmaking lying ahead is the title (lowercase with punctuation), followed by the fact that none of the characters are named in the film. It's only when one reads the credits where the aforementioned performers are listed as playing, respectively, "mother," "Him," "Man" and "Woman."

When viewed just from the surface, the story is simple. Mother and Him live in a remote house where he's a frustrated writer while she's working to rebuild his house that previously was consumed by fire. Along comes a stranger and then his wife, followed later by their squabbling adult kids, strangers and then even more strangers. Him is fine with all of this, contrary to Mother who isn't and becomes increasingly perturbed by the interlopers taking advantage of and disrespecting her and their home.

Aronofsky is obviously going after the marginalization of women with that, but also how some artists put their work and interaction with fans above everything else. But the filmmaker -- who faltered in trying to bring the tale of the titular ark builder to the big screen with "Noah" -- is also going after earlier religious material where Lawrence is a metaphor for Mother Earth, Bardem is God as a poet, and Harris and Pfeiffer are Adam and Eve. There's also the forbidden fruit (sort of), a murderous son, religious followers (fans of the poet), the fall of man, and so on. That ties in with the environmental aspect of overpopulation and man's ravaging of Mother Earth.

That's a lot of thematic material for the filmmaker to juggle on top of the underlying story, but the sheer amount isn't the problem. It's that despite a talented cast, the characters are paper thin and thus the performances are muted.

The dialogue isn't anything to write home about, the literal, in-your-face close-up camera work (sans any sort of stabilizer) is annoying, the metaphors are slathered on far too thick, pretty much to the same disappointing depth of the all too apparent pretentiousness in play, and we've seen all of Aronofsky's surrealism before so all of that feels old hat.

And when Kristen Wiig shows up as a publicist and ends up executing hooded people on the floor (while chaos in all shapes and sizes reigns and rains all around her and the main characters), you know this offering has jumped the shark, derailed and succumbed to all of its multilayered, pretentious audacity. One of the more disappointing films of 2017, "mother!" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed September 12, 2017 / Posted September 15, 2017

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