Lesson for today: never marry an artist, especially a poet. There! I’ve just saved you two hours. To be clear, I would never discourage anyone from seeing a film that interests them, especially someone who admires Darren Aronofsky’s work. I run hot and cold with this bold writer-director; I liked his daring debut feature Pi but have had problems with many of his subsequent films. For instance, I was not a fan of Requiem for a Dream, although it had many supporters. If you are one of them and you want to relive Ellen Burstyn’s acid trip on a larger scale, then by all means check it out.

The movie’s strongest asset is its always-watchable star, Jennifer Lawrence, whose tightly-photographed face carries much of the weight of this allegorical tale. She is married to celebrated poet Javier Bardem, who is experiencing writer’s block. She is in the process of rebuilding, painting and decorating their enormous Victorian house after a disastrous fire…but despite this demonstration of her love for him, something has gone wrong between them. It’s expressed in her furtive looks and unspoken feelings.

Their house is in a remote location but one day a stranger (Ed Harris) knocks on the door and Bardem offers to put him up for the night. He is followed by his outspoken wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), who pries into Lawrence’s private life and seems to specialize in inappropriate behavior. This intrusion marks the beginning of a mushrooming emotional crisis for Lawrence and Bardem, the details of which I won’t reveal. It has some of the nightmarish qualities of Rosemary’s Baby, though it’s not nearly as good.

The set-up of Mother! is intriguing, to be sure, but I found the second half to be an endurance test. I identified so closely with Lawrence’s plight that I felt as if I was trapped in a bad dream. (We’re never sure if she is dreaming, too, or if what’s happening is real to any degree.) All I wanted was to wake up. In other words, I couldn’t wait for the film to be over.

Aronofsky has said that what he wants most is to provoke conversation, to engage moviegoers so they will discuss and debate the content of his film. I’ve had a different reaction: I don’t want to invest another minute of my time thinking about Mother! I respect Aronofsky’s gutsiness, and Lawrence’s as well, but I found the movie to be an ordeal. All I want is to move on.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024