By Lynn Venhaus
Morose performances, a murky plot with muddled twists, messy filmmaking choices, and with its dark, gloomy look, the dubious “The Good Mother” is a colossal waste of time.
Director Miles Joris-Pevrafitte and co-screenwriter Madison Harrison, both from Albany, New York, have set this thriller in their hometown, attempting to make a gritty mystery encased in a seedy drug-dealing scenario.
Only it’s a frustrating watch, as they fumble at every opportunity to tell a cohesive story. However, cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby uses several interesting camera angles of buildings in town — which do nothing to advance the plot — when she isn’t blurring interiors.
The junkie son of journalist Marissa Bennings is murdered, and she tries to solve the crime with his pregnant girlfriend Paige (Olivia Cooke) and her police officer son Toby (Jack Reynor). Set in Albany, New York, in 2016, as they go deeper into the seedy drug world, the truth they confront includes a dark secret.
With its pedestrian procedural plot shrouded in dim shots with shadowy hard-to-see details, the co-screenwriters are baffling because it seems like they do not want to disclose tidbits that would illuminate what really happened. Confusing and conflicting actions occur as this unoriginal story plods along like the dullest episode of “CSI” ever.
Doors are not locked, consequences are avoided, and people come and go without much purpose. This is such a slight, dissatisfying story that one would hope the quality of the cast would elevate material, but the inertia you feel is real. Why should we care about these people?
The only character that resonates emotionally is a grieving mom honestly spilling her guts at an Al-Anon meeting.
The director wastes the talents of two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, who plays an unpleasant hard-shelled newspaper editor who drinks too much and goes through life on autopilot. She is grieving the loss of a significant other and estrangement of her once star-athlete son, who became an addict, starting with painkillers as an injured youth. And what is with the wobbly accent?
Swank decides passivity and a glum, pouty look – a crank dealing with a daily massive hangover – is the way to capture this grieving woman. (And no way could someone who drinks and smokes like that run as far and as fast as she does in a chase scene).
Jack Reynor and Olivia Cooke are mostly believable in their roles but have a confrontation on basement stairs that stretches all credibility. Reynor, as Toby, has a pregnant wife – Gina, played by Dilone – whose character is underdeveloped and unconvincing in resolutions.
The bone-headed decisions take their toll, and 90 minutes is both too long and not enough. Midway, we still really don’t have a sense of what is really going on, as the writers-director think relying on collage-like memories will fill in the blanks for us. And what is with setting it in 2016?
Hopper Penn, the son of Sean Penn and Robin Wright, is a blip as dead son Michael’s best friend, a strung-out Ducky who is in big trouble, a major piece of the puzzle, and an unreliable narrator. But untangling this never happens.
Joris-Peyrafitte is a jack of all trades, composing the cool-kids score that seems out of sync with the atmosphere, and editing the film with Damian Rodriguez besides writing and directing. Maybe he wore too many hats but writing a lucid screenplay would seem to be the priority.
The final scene is ludicrous and leaves many loose plot threads hanging. Feeling cheated, I wanted to throw something at the screen. The lack of engagement is a serious problem that couldn’t be overcome in this ill-conceived and implausible film.
“The Good Mother” is a 2023 crime drama-thriller directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and starring Hilary Swank, Olivia Cooke, Jack Reynor, Hopper Penn, Dilone, and Norm Lewis. It is not rated and runtime is 1 hour, 29 minutes. It opens in theaters Sept. 1. Lynn’s Grade: F.
Note: this review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.