Producers: Shaun Sanghani, Siena Oberman and Emma Tillinger Koskoff Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte Screenplay: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and Madison Harrison Cast: Hilary Swank, Olivia Cooke, Dilone, Hopper Penn, Norm Lewis, Karen Aldridge, Madison Harrison and Jack Reynor Distributor: Vertical
A dreary mixture of crime thriller and domestic melodrama, “The Good Mother” is set in Albany, New York, in 2016 for some reason. The titular figure is Marissa (Hilary Swank), a reporter with a local newspaper still grieving the death of her husband. Just as she goes back to work, too soon according to her editor (Norm Lewis), she suffers another blow: her policeman son Toby (Jack Reynor) interrupts a newsroom conference to inform her that her estranged younger son Michael, a drug addict, has been shot and killed.
Marissa gets a further shock when Michael’s girlfriend Paige (Olivia Cooke) shows up at his funeral with the news that she’s pregnant with his child. She also tells Marissa that she and Michael were trying to get clean in preparation for settling down with the baby, but that he was still in the drug business with his childhood friend Ducky (Hopper Penn). The two women form a tense alliance to investigate Michael’s death as Toby and his pregnant wife Gina (Dilone) look on apprehensively, occasionally offering sympathy and help.
What follows is intended to be surprising and sobering but is instead predictable and ludicrous. It wouldn’t be fair to reveal plot twists that are intended to be shocking, but the fact is that a character we’re supposed to consider good turns out not to be is such a crude ploy, so obviously acted and directed, that any viewer not seeing it coming a mile away just isn’t watching. Yet it’s supposed to be a big revelation, and one that’s elaborately played out in a long, remarkably unpleasant sequence (another similarly ugly scene concerns somebody finding a dead body).
Madison Harrison, who co-wrote the script with director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, takes a small role as Michael in the opening sequence of the film; the choice of part was wise, in that the character is killed off quickly and promptly disappears, except for the photograph displayed at the funeral.
The other cast members aren’t so fortunate. They have to continue trying to breathe some life into the rest of the story. Primary among them, of course, is Swank, who suffers extravagantly as a woman buffeted by multiple tragedies. It’s not a bad performance, but it’s a one-note turn that grows tiresome over the long haul, and the movie’s ambiguous close, in which her character’s action challenges the accuracy of the title, isn’t likely to satisfy. Cooke is her real co-star here, and puts plenty of intensity into her role despite its being underwritten. Among the rest of the cast Hopper overacts and Reynor, perhaps to compensate, is pretty much a stiff.
The film has a drab, dingy look courtesy of production designer Izabelle Garcia and cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby, while the editing by Damian Rodriguez and Taylor Levy and score by Joris-Peyrafitte and Eric Slick try, but fail, to give it some energy. But it remains slack and uninvolving, even in its most propulsive moments, because the characters remains ciphers being pushed around in a scriptwriter’s board game rather than genuine human beings.
Sad to say, the titular adjective certainly can’t be applied to the movie.