With major cult status clinging to nearly all the films from his first 15 years as director, there’s considerable fan curiosity surrounding Nicolas Roeg’s first feature since the 1996 telepic “Samson and Delilah.” But “Puffball” turns out to be all too aptly named — a misshapen whatsit with nothing very substantial inside. Adapted (by her son) from a 1980 Fay Weldon novel, this strange but not particularly interesting brew of pregnancy, sex and supernatural hocus-pocus lacks the author’s trademark wit, and hasn’t found any other coherent way to make sense of the cryptic story. Prospects look to skew smallscreen.
Young architect Liffey (Kelly Reilly) has left her city firm and boss (Donald Sutherland, appearing in just a couple oddball scenes) with Yank b.f. Richard (Oscar Pearce) to completely remodel a crumbling old cottage in the Irish countryside.
Cottage was once occupied by the Tuckers, who still inhabit a neighboring farm. Mabs Tucker (Miranda Richardson) has three daughters but pines for a son; her own witchy ma Molly (Rita Tushingham) uses “bloody voodoo palaver” (as another puts it) to try to make that happen, while Mabs’ eldest daughter, Audrey (Leona Igoe), turns out to have her own special powers. When Liffey gets pregnant, the Tucker women decide she’s somehow stolen a baby meant for Mabs.
Inebriating potions, a couple aggressive barn couplings, hints at a baby lost long ago in a fire and Norse mythology references are among the factors that don’t come together in any meaningful or even very intriguing way here. It’s one thing that the story doesn’t make much sense; it’s quite another that, given a paucity of atmosphere, suspense and character involvement, one doesn’t much care.
The visual and editorial excitement that distinguished Roeg’s best features is muffled in the just competently packaged pic. William Houston (as Mabs’ wandering-eye husband) fares best among performers adrift in the vague material, while Reilly provides too conventional glamor in the lead role.