Release Date: September 15, 2017
Screened: September 11, 2017 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Runtime: 121 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence; Javier Bardem; Ed Harris; Michelle Pfeiffer; Brian Gleeson; Domhnall Gleeson; Kristen Wiig
I can’t think of a contemporary director who brings the “WTF?!?!” better than Darren Aronofsky, and he proves as much with his latest: the maternal insanity that is mother!
No character names are spoken, but Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star as Mother and Him, respectively (as indicated in the end credits). She has spent the majority of her time recently decorating their rustic estate to look like something out of a country home and garden catalogue, while he has been working on authoring a new book. Throwing a curveball into their peaceful existence is the arrival of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, a weird couple who seem fixated on Bardem: starfuckers, if you will. Without saying too much more about the plot, Jen soon begins to have crippling stomach pains and just gets the general feeling that something ain’t right. Then the shit really begins to hit the fan!
And hit it it does! Like most of Aronofsky’s films, this one is a slow burn, building gradually and quietly, almost too quietly. Once it gets going, however, it’s ON! The intensity of mother! never abates once it starts: the audience is truly in for a helluva roller coaster ride. It’s not Aronofsky’s style to allow the audience to catch its breath and cinemas across the country would be wise to distribute inhalers to ticket buyers.
Jennifer Lawrence certainly earns her movie star paycheck here. Her experience playing Katniss Everdeen seems to have served her well as she is asked to not only exhibit a broad emotional range, but also to endure unbelievable feats of physicality for her role. Bardem has this too-good-looking-to-be-entirely-on-the-level shtick down by this point and he plays off of it nicely here. Harris and Pfeiffer are well cast as the intruding couple, emanating a strange vibe that works to unease the viewer.
Let’s just talk about Michelle Pfeiffer for a second. The woman is pretty much the closest thing to a goddess we have here on earth. Her presence on the screen just seems to gain strength with each successive movie she makes. With one look and one coil of her lip, she can get anything she wants. She is in full control of her faculties in mother! and the screen is in her grip whenever she’s on it.
I don’t want to write too much about mother! or I run the risk of sullying the experience for the viewer, but this is prime Aronofsky. If your intensity threshold is high enough, you will find a lot to enjoy here. Just don’t see it with your own mother.