mother! ✮1/2

 

Mother, Muse … MOAB?

By Glenn Lovell

Ah, the plight of the tortured artist. He’s burdened with rare insight and introspective powers that ultimately prove more curse than blessing. Their legends notwithstanding, Hemingway, Picasso and, yes, director-choreographer Bob Fosse were, according to those who knew them, total shits in real life, vampiric users who sucked the lifeblood from loved ones as they kneeled at the altar of their own genius.

Donning hair shirt that extends well below his knees for the oddly titled “mother!” – I’m confused; doesn’t an exclamation point cancel out the lower case “m”? – the usually reliable Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream,” “The Black Swan”) attempts to both purge feelings of guilt and atone for the sins he and others have committed on their way to the top.

Hyped as a supernatural thriller along the lines of Polanski’s brilliant “Rosemary’s Baby,” Aronofsky’s latest is closer to the Polish director’s earlier art-house fare, such sardonic mind-games as “Cul-de-Sac” and “Repulsion.” Let’s call it an absurdist nightmare that’s so over the top it feels like a rerouted Beckett or Ionesco play. In other words, expect more laughs than gasps.

I found the film gutsy but pretentious and way too self-indulgent. And I had company. At a weekend showing in the South Bay, some genre fans (feeling they’d been conned?) made for the exit once it became obvious Aronofsky didn’t have a joker or cathartic twist up his sleeve; he intended to go with the cards dealt.

No it-was-all-a-dream “Dallas” denouement for this guy! No siree.

Jennifer Lawrence is the naïve young wife — and soon-to-be mother — married to an older poet (Javier Bardem) who’s convinced he’ll never duplicate the success of his first anthology. The pair reside in a suspiciously drab and isolated Victorian (weeds and wild flowers have erased the path to the front door). He’s distant, preoccupied. She’s lonely and confused. And when a newborn is added to the equation, she becomes fiercely protective, possibly dangerous. Who can blame her? Her husband (Bardem often caught in looming closeup) is, by turns, controlling, patronizing, contemptuous. Like pretend novelist Jack Torrance in “The Shining,” he’s looking for a scapegoat. He blames his wife for his writer’s block. Why isn’t she a better muse?!

In need of a distraction, any distraction, the poet welcomes anyone who darkens their door. A chatty, chain-smoking doctor (Ed Harris) and his accusatory wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) are the first to arrive. They’re followed by feuding brothers, other family members, a literary agent (Kristen Wiig), and later, when hubby achieves rock-star status, a horde of reporters. (A poet who leads the nightly news? Now we know we’ve entered some kind of twilight zone.)

From here things escalate. Family members morph into home invaders, cult members inflamed by a zealot (Stephen McHattie) … angry mob. Can a full-blmother2own apocalypse complete with SWAT team be far off? (Think the final siege of the Griswold home in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” for an idea of how preposterous this is.)

Thanks to Lawrence, tightly framed throughout to underscore her predicament, “mother!” is not without moments of pathos and dark humor. As strangers egged on by the increasingly preoccupied husband pour into the house, taking over remodeling projects and queuing for the upstairs bathroom, the resourceful Lawrence calls on every stunned expression in her playbook. Hers is an ultimately squandered performance: There’s enough suspicion and simmering outrage here for half-a-dozen Polanski paranoiacs. (Like Catherine Deneuve’s damaged shut-in in “Repulsion,” Lawrence’s character stares so long at the walls that they begin to bubble and melt and feed her neuroses.)

There will be those who will accommodate Aronofsky based on his past successes and, perforce, stamp this misfire “Brave Personal Statement.” They will salute the director’s refusal to double back on his premise and impose a satisfying explanation, i.e. cop-out. Wasn’t it gutsy of Aronofsky to stay true to his initial vision, etc., etc.

Sorry, no can do. “mother!” doesn’t attain MOAB stature, but it’s still the most indulgent film from a major director in a good while, maybe since Fosse went Fellini-esque for his mea culpa, “All That Jazz.”

mother! ✮1/2 With Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kristen Wiig. Written, directed by Darren Aronofsky. 115 min. Rated R (for language, violence, disturbing images)

 

 

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