One gets the sense that “Mother,” Albert Brooks’ latest yuppie angst attack, is probably a lot like going out on a date with the guy.
The first 20 minutes are nervously painful because he’s trying too hard. Then, as he eases into a moderate comfort zone, he’s astutely funny and full of insight. But just when he hits his stride, he realizes he’s having a good time, and he abruptly calls the whole thing quits.
But that’s a negligible criticism because Brooks, working with his longtime writing partner, Monica Johnson, has made some inspired moves with “Mother,” noting, “There are two kinds of mothers on the planet. The first kind thinks that every thing their children do is perfect. And then there’s the other kind. This is about the other kind.”
John Henderson (Brooks) is a science-fiction writer who has just gone through his second divorce. He decides that at the root of his problems with women is his relationship with his mother and, if he doesn’t straighten that primal attachment out, he’ll never be happy.
The only solution is to move back in with Mom. So, John packs up his Alfa Romeo and, to a song that is a clever little riff on “Mrs. Robinson” from the 1968 film “The Graduate,” heads north to his mother’s Bay Area home.
Beatrice (Debbie Reynolds), however, lives in a world of her own. It’s not that she doesn’t love her son, but she has a patterned and ordered routine and she doesn’t really want to be bothered by a 40-year-old man who has made the sudden decision to run home to mother. As she greets him at the door, she hugs him saying, “Of course I’m glad to see you dear. Now, why didn’t you stay in a hotel?”
Worse, John’s younger brother, Jeff (Rob Morrow), a sports agent who appears to have the perfect family and relationship with Beatrice, resents John’s imposing on their daily conversations.
“Mother,” besides being smart and wryly full of subtle observations, actually gives us a lot to think about. Everyone has a mother, for better or for worse, and everybody has struggled with the position of power she seemingly holds over us. Brooks has crafted a crisp familial comedy about a son who learns to finally view his mother as not the enemy, but a real flesh and blood person with flaws.
In “Mother,” he outdoes himself with neurotic impulses. But it works beautifully when contrasted to Debbie Reynolds’ surface calm and impenetrable veneer. In fact, Brooks is to be congratulated for giving Reynolds one of the best roles of her career and putting her back on the screen.
Reynolds, who was nominated for an Oscar for “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” has been absent from films for 23 years, opting to work on the stage and at her Las Vegas club after the movies quit “wanting her.”
But she has been storing up for her big return and in “Mother” she gets her moment. Reynolds creates a complex, slyly scattered character with an inner will made of steel. It’s a gem of a performance and Brooks wisely stands to the side and lets her walk off with the movie. xxxx “Mother” Locations: Newport Cinemas Credits: Directed by Albert Brooks, starring Albert Brooks, Debbie Reynolds, Rob Morrow Running time: 1:44 Rating: PG-13