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MOTHER

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Albert Brooks, Debbie Reynolds, Rob Morrow
Director:  Albert Brooks
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  103 Minutes
Release Date:  February 13, 2001

Film ***

ďTHATíS a lot of cheese!Ē

Iíve always looked on Albert Brooks as kind of a poor manís Woody Allen.  Iíve liked some of his films, but not all of them.  He can be very funny in his observations, and when his humor is based on truth, itís usually impeccable.  But he canít always resist the urge to go for the cheap and banal joke, and no laugh is worthwhile when it takes you back out of the story.

Mother has to be one of his more successful films because itís much more of the former and considerably less of the latter.  As an actor, he found in the wonderfully effervescent Debbie Reynolds a perfect chemistry:  her timing is razor sharp, and her subtle digs make for a hilarious contrast to Brooksí exaggerated neurosis.  Now that Iím in my thirties, I think I can appreciate this kind of movie a little more, especially after having a second lengthy conversation with my father this past weekend where I tried to explain that when you use a check card at an ATM, you donít have to pay it back and youíre not accruing interest on it.  Iím getting ready for round three next weekend as we speak.

Brooks plays John Henderson, a 40 year old writer with relationship issues.  As the picture opens, heís finalizing his second divorce.  Left with an empty room and two pieces of furniture he shuffles around pointlessly, he begins to wonder about his problem with women, and he comes to a conclusion:  he canít hope to be successful with them until heís made his relationship with his mother (Reynolds) a success.  So, he drives 400 miles to her house and moves back into his old room.  ďIím so glad youíre here,Ē she says to him.  ďNow, tell me again why you canít stay at a hotel?Ē

The best aspect of the film is the one-on-one dynamic between John and his mother.  Mrs. Henderson is hardly the exaggerated smothering monster most comedies make mothers out to be.  Sheís a sweet thing who just happens to say and do all the right things to punch Johnís buttons.  When the two take a trip to the grocery store together, it is one of the single funniest scenes Iíve ever watched.  Iím smiling right now as I write just remembering it.

The comedy flows naturally from the reality of the situation, and itís perfect.  When it fails is when Brooks reaches back for that little something extra.  There is a big outdoor scene staged where John loudly proclaims to his younger brother (Morrow) that heís having sex with his mother.  I chuckled at the absurdity, but at the same time, it temporarily removed me from the moment:  I couldnít believe for one second that a grown man would actually do something like that.

Still, the distractions are few and far between, and the only other major complaint is the ending, which boasts not one, but TWO contrivances that are so neatly wrapped up and packaged that the movie lost a great deal in about ten minutes.

But whatís great about the movie far outweighs its problems.  As an actor, even a comic one, I can usually take or leave Albert Brooks, but here, I couldnít get enough of his sparkling scenes with Debbie Reynolds.  Her sweetness and subtlety were a perfect foil to his sometimes uncontrolled rantings.  She helped reel him in just enough to keep his character grounded, instead of an all-too-typical Brooks caricature.  And thereís not an instance of dialogue between them that seems comically forced.  Every word is true to life, and will no doubt have many an audience member thinking about conversations with their own mothers over the years.

In short, Mother is a sweet, funny, good-natured Valentine to moms everywhere.  Letís not forget the maddening, wonderful little things they do that make us crazyÖbecause nobody will ever love us as much as that.

Video ***1/2

This is a very good anamorphic offering from Paramount.  Images are sharp and crystal clear throughout, from brighter settings to low lit ones, and colors render very beautifully and very naturally.  Detail is strong throughout from the foreground to background, and I noticed no picture complaints save for a miniscule touch of grain in a few shotsÖnothing distracting.  Overall, a very worthy effort.

Audio ***

I opted for the 5.1 soundtrack, which was very serviceable, but as you might expect, unspectacular.  I didnít really notice anything happening on the rear stage at all, nor much call for the .1 channel, but the front stage was very well presented, with crisp, clear dialogue and music, and a fairly good use of the breadth of the 3 channels.  Being that this is a character and dialogue oriented film, thereís really not much more you could ask for from the audio.

Features *

Only a trailer.

Summary:

Mother is a comic gem that succeeds far more than it falls short.  Co-writer, director and star Albert Brooks offers one of the best films of his career by exploring the richly comical and very real relationship between grown children and the women who brought them up.  He and Debbie Reynolds are a delightfully perfect screen duo, and the laughs are plenty and rewarding.  Share this DVD experience with your mother.  Just donít sit too close to the TV set, or youíll ruin your eyesÖ