The traumatic subject matter of a child custody fight is handled with restraint and intelligence in The Good Mother. Superbly acted by an imaginatively chosen cast, adaptation of Sue Miller’s 1986 bestseller goes so far to avoid tear-jerking pathos the result may have come out a little drier than anticiapated.
Well-judged script presents Anna Dunlap (Diane Keaton) as the recently divorced mother of Molly, an enthusiastic child of six. Living in the Boston area, working part-time in a lab and teaching piano, Anna is committed to her daughter above all else. Skittish and insecure where men are concerned, she nevertheless allows herself to be seduced by Leo (Liam Neeson), an iconoclastic, thoroughly charming Irish sculptor.
Shortly, the boom is lowered. Anna’s cold ex-husband Brian (James Naughton), an attorney now remarried, slaps a custody suit on her, announcing that Molly has informed him that Leo in some way molested her sexually.
In the legal crunch, Brian and his attorney (Joe Morton) have the easier job to show, in this conservative era, that Anna’s bohemian, live-in lifestyle, casual moral stance and negligent attitude toward her boyfriend’s behavior with Molly [briefly allowing the curious child to touch his genitals] represent a clear danger to the child.
Despite the moderate dramatic reserve, which partly stems from director Leonard Nimoy’s predominant use of medium-shots, this is compelling stuff, and the performances are uniformly first rate.