Mixed bag THE GOOD MOTHER offers some thrills with a opioid crisis backdrop — Moviejawn
The Good MotherDirected by Miles Joris-PeyrafitteWritten by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and Madison HarrisonStarring: Hilary Swank, Olivia Cooke, Jack ReynorRated RRuntime: 1 hour, 29 minutesIn theaters September 1
by Gary M. Kramer, Staff Writer
The topical drama, The Good Mother, addresses the dangers of drugs, in general, and the opioid crisis in particular. Set in Albany, 2016, Marissa (Hilary Swank) gets the devastating news—from her son, Toby (Jack Reynor), a cop—that her other son Michael (Madison Harrison), is dead. At the funeral, Marissa rages at Michael’s pregnant girlfriend, Paige (Olivia Cooke), slapping her so hard that Paige is knocked off her feet. But after an apology, the two women forget their differences and work together to figure out who killed Michael.
The sleuthing involves a lead Paige gets from a message she sends, and a chance meeting Marissa has with Ducky (Hopper Penn), Michael’s no-good friend. Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte (who cowrote the screenplay with Harrison) uses these scenes to create a flinty B-movie thriller, and the best thing about The Good Mother is how it indulges in its gritty atmosphere.
There are some nifty overhead shots from coffee cups to city streets as well as an image of a coffin being lowered into the ground from above that Joris-Peyrafitte likes so much, he uses it twice. But it is in the “action” sequences that the filmmaker distinguishes himself. One scene has a character making a tense escape when their house is broken into by men looking for drugs. A foot chase that ends up in a railyard ends with a character getting hit over the head with a blunt object. And a (predictably) tense scene features someone snooping around in a basement, which, of course, leads to real trouble.
These episodes are absorbing—if only they weren’t so contrived. The trouble with The Good Mother is that Joris-Peyrafitte tends to overdo things, like letting the music dictate how viewers should feel at every given moment. He also features a head-scratching sequence where Marissa—carrying a baby!—tails a suspect through a trains station only to have a train door close in her face. When the door reopens, it is unintentionally funny.
The film really does have an interesting story at heart. Marissa drinks too much; she turned to the bottle when her husband passed away. And there is a fine speech at a support group meeting by Laurie (Karen Aldridge) about grief and loss. But then to have Laurie take Marissa to a needle exchange site feels overly preachy.
Likewise, flashbacks to Michael’s childhood feel clunky. A narrative Marissa recounts about Michael’s promise being wasted justifies these scenes, but they come too late in the film to have much impact.
The Good Mother is all over the place, and while Swank commits to playing Marissa as a lonely, troubled, and determined mother who wants justice for her son’s death, Joris-Peyrafitte does not give the two-time Oscar winner enough to do. Swank’s performance feels very formulaic. In support, Jack Reynor tries to invest Toby with some gravitas, but he comes off too easygoing for a cop whose brother has just been killed.
Despite its numerous flaws, The Good Mother is a passable thriller. But it would have been better had it really grappled with the horrors of the drug crisis, rather than just using that plot as a backdrop for a tale of desperation.The Good MotherDirected by Miles Joris-PeyrafitteWritten by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and Madison HarrisonStarring: Hilary Swank, Olivia Cooke, Jack ReynorRated RRuntime: 1 hour, 29 minutesIn theaters September 1by Gary M. Kramer, Staff Writer