You’re not going to like the new Jennifer Lawrence movie.
It’s a slow, plodding arthouse melodrama filled with allegory and widely open to interpretation. If you can make it through the entire two-hour running time, you’ll be stunned how a film like this gets made.
But that’s just the way director Darren Aronofsky likes it. He relishes how audiences have left “mother!” in disgust, making it one of the rare features to earn a F from CinemaScore, which polls audience reaction.
There’s an entire promotional campaign that accurately bills “mother!” as perhaps the most polarizing film this decade.
“mother!” isn’t good. It isn’t bad, either. It’s both and neither, simultaneously.
The film is nothing short of a spectacular disaster, beautifully brilliant in a “why would people want to see this” sort of way. Aronofsky and Lawrence have teamed to make a grotesque, melancholy feature that leaps to the top of any best bad film or worst good film list.
“mother!” is a uniquely enthralling experience that almost no one should go and see in theaters, but that the most adventurous audiences will find absolutely captivating.
If you decide to trek and find “mother!” on the big screen, it’s important to know as little as possible going into a screening. This will allow viewers to authentically experience how Aronofsky layers and builds his complex, controversial allegory. The weird, subversive brilliance of what Aronofsky attempts to create on screen will hit different audience members at different times, leaving viewers stunned, scarred, upset and any other multitude of emotions.
Names are never truly spoken within the film, a deliberate construct used to develop the allegory. Lawrence’s credited role of Mother lives in a large isolated farmhouse with her husband (Javier Bardem), a brooding poet only referred to as Him. When a Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive unannounced at the home, their presence sets off a chain reaction that shakes the foundation of the couple’s marriage.
Lawrence delivers a tremendous, subtle performance with the entire film resting on her shoulders, as Aronofsky frequently frames the camera tightly on her pale, withering face. Her turn isn’t flawless, especially as the film progresses deeper into Aronofsky’s mind, but Lawrence plows forward with reckless abandon.
“mother!” forces Lawrence on an emotional roller-coaster that she rides with vigor, giving her best in the moments that nearly crack the character’s core. This will prove to be among her most iconic performances, as much for her devotion to being present in the moment as the strangeness of the film’s content.
Oscar winner Bardem thrives in this environment, given the freedom to saunter in and out of scenes with a strong, brooding character that reverberates in the moment long after he’s no longer present. Bardem is a master of twisting a phrase so tightly that a character’s true intentions are a complete mystery. There’s something dynamic about his performance that gives “mother!” the energy necessary early in the film to bridge the gap until Aronofsky’s script reveals itself
“mother!” has the attitude and vibrancy as if audiences are peering inside the mind of the film’s auteur director after a weekend bender.
Aronofsky simply doesn’t care about the audience reaction and approaches everything from dialogue to story structure to the overwhelming number of extreme closeups on Lawrence in this manner. The result is an elegantly infuriating dramatic dance that culminates in one of cinema’s wildest rides.
There’s simply no chance that “mother!” will be honored with any major accolades this fall. It’s a far too divisive and controversial film to hold much of a chance for an Academy Award win. It would not be surprising, however, to see Lawrence’s emotionally charged, increasingly demonstrative performance earn Best Actress considerations as the film’s lone nomination.
“mother!” isn’t for the mainstream audiences it was promoted for; it isn’t even the provocative horror film it was made out to be. But there’s something alluring in the broken brilliance of Aronofsky’s work that might engage and excite a small portion of frequent moviegoers keen on experiencing film in a way they’ve never seen before, or likely ever again.