On the surface an ironic dramedy about a mother’s hots for her daughter’s lover, but at a broader level a portrait of a contempo British family drifting apart because of generational differences, “The Mother” ends up an uneasy brew of too many competing tastes and themes. Typically uneven script by Hanif Kureishi — here reunited with his “The Buddha of Suburbia” director Roger Michell and producer Kevin Loader — mingles acutely observed scenes with sequences of forced emotion to overall unsatisfying results. Though given a degree of emotional depth by veteran legit/TV actress Anne Reid as the 60-ish title character, and a soupcon of scandal by its subject, film appears headed to only modest bigscreen earnings, followed by festival and tube play.
A devoted wife who’s enjoyed a traditional marriage in a leafy town, May (Reid) travels with husband Toots (Peter Vaughan) to visit their children and grandchildren in West London. In a nicely judged sequence that sets up the generational divide, the elderly couple arrives early at the home of son Bobby (Steven Mackintosh) and his wife, Helen (Anna Wilson Jones). The workaholic yuppies have two young kids (Harry Michell, Rosie Michell), a foreign nanny, and a lifestyle with little room for May and Toots.
May and Toots’ daughter, Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw), lives a less high-rolling — but equally confused — life in a smaller abode nearby. She struggles to raise her son (Carlo & Sachin Kureishi) between her creative writing classes and a personal life as a single mother. Her lover turns out to be Bobby’s friend, Darren (Daniel Craig), an apparently laid-back laborer who’s building a smart new patio extension at Bobby and Helen’s home.
When Toots suddenly dies of a heart attack, May is left alone, and to Bobby and Helen’s obvious discomfort, she ends up staying with them. Initially opposed to Darren, whom she considers beneath her daughter, May starts to develop a liking for the virile guy when they’re alone in the house during the daytime.
Pic’s big challenge is to make the attraction between May and Darren believable: After spending three reels setting up the family background and May’s character, with Darren barely drawn, Kureishi’s script rushes in with a frankly unbelievable sequence in which the older woman invites the younger blade to service her upstairs. Once that dramatic hurdle is over, film settles back for a while as May pursues her attraction to Darren without telling her daughter, who still blows hot and cold with Darren.
Aside from drawing a broad portrait of generational dysfunction within a family — nicely underlined by May’s sense of alienation from London life — Kureishi’s script is also good at sketching the pattern of lies that people tell themselves and each other.
Though the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, and has an ironic tone, Kureishi has a habit of slipping into moments of forced dialogue (especially Paula’s scenes with her mom) and, with too many plot strands to resolve, the third act founders.
As May, Reid gives the movie a still, mature center that manages to hold things together for much of the time, though even she is unable to reconcile the competing sides of her character. Until the latter stages, Craig cuts a convincing figure of Darren, and Mackintosh is especially good as the remote, rather cold son.
Bradshaw has her moments as Paula but, like Craig, is faced with some almost unactable dialogue in emotional moments.
Michell’s direction is technically very smooth, moving between exteriors and interiors, though Alwin Kuchler’s lensing moves uncomfortably between colder color schemes and warmer moments with no overall look. Jeremy Sams’ delicate, Satie-esque piano doodles supply occasional texture for May’s character.