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Photograph by Ivan Kynd

Poster Parent: Anne Reid discovers a new passion after the sudden death of her husband in 'The Mother.'

May in December

'The Mother' and her daughter love the same unsuitable man in the new London

By Richard von Busack

ANNE REID gives a performance that no woman over 40 should miss in The Mother. That Roger Michell's movie is often antiseptic and prettified, in a way the weathered lead actress isn't, can't stop Reid. She plays a lady who has a late-in-life affair with the man her daughter loves. Previously, May (Reid) had tried to talk her daughter, Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw), out of this unworthy fellow. Thus, the subtlety of Reid's brave acting. We can't tell what's behind her motherly advice. Does she really want what's best for her daughter? Or is her attempt to talk her daughter out of suffering for this unsuitable man really just a way of cloaking May's desire to have things her way?

May is a grandmother come from the north of England to visit her children in London. From the start, the trip doesn't bode well. We see scriptwriter Hanif Kureishi's old antagonism for London right away. Almost the first line is May telling her husband to dress warmly: "You know how cold you get in London." May and her husband, Toots (Peter Vaughn), seem not to have been expected at their son Bobby's house. On their first night, Toots succumbs to a heart attack. Now widowed, but reluctant to go home, May descends on her elder daughter, Paula.

The young woman has her own crisis. She's at the point in her life where she realizes she'll never be the writer she wanted to be. To make up for this dashed hope, she drinks too much wine and clings like an octopus to a married man she's sleeping with. He's a handsome itinerant handyman, Darren (Daniel Craig). When Paula asks her mother to try to talk to the commitment-shy Darren, to wrangle out his intentions toward Paula, something unexpected happens: May ends up having sex with the much younger man.

It's the reverse of the situation in Young Adam, with an old Eve revealing the nasty underside of this would-be free spirit. Yet Darren is all the more attractive when compared with the man Paula tries to fix May up with: Bruce, he's called, acted in a terrifically repellant performance by Oliver Ford Davies, who embodies the bad-in-bed bore in all of his facets, from seduction ("Are you ... tired?") to the act itself, which is like being molested by a giant shell-less turtle.

The movie starts to fall apart in the last third. The revelation of May's affair via a stack of erotic drawings found on a kitchen table is a disbelief-inducing motif that also didn't work in the recent film version of Mansfield Park. Alwin Kuchler's photography is depressingly fastidious, as are the gently blowing curtains symbolizing May's wistful hopes. Sometimes the whiteout photography works, though. Michell films Reid touring the new alien parts of the city, that gigantic Ferris wheel the London Eye and the new sculpture plaza in the Tate Gallery. The city is impersonal, rushed and shiny as a capped tooth. You could get tired of it and think you were tired of life. London seems most really itself in a night scene, when a dejected May watches the empty lager cans bob in the water of the Eros fountain at Piccadilly Circus late at night after the neon lights have gone out.


The Mother (R; 111 min.), directed by Roger Michell, written by Hanif Kureishi, photographed by Alwin H. Kutchler and starring Anne Reid, opens Friday at Camera 7 in Campbell.


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From the June 2-8, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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