The Good Mother

March 12, 2013

goodmotherThe Good Mother, a film adapted from the novel by Sue Miller, takes its time about springing its main plot point. First we learn some history about the protagonist, Anna (Diane Keaton), recently divorced, who lives in Boston with her young daughter.

Early in the film, she meets a sculptor (Liam Neeson) with whom she has a torrid, and very satisfying, affair. The movie is a good 50 minutes old before the revelation that changes everything, a revelation that centers on child molestation, or at least the appearance of impropriety.

The movie delves into Anna’s family history, recounting her hero worship of her rebellious aunt, and the still-formidable presence of her wealthy grandparents (Ralph Bellamy and Teresa Wright).

Anna was supposed to be the pianist in the family, but she never quite had the passion for it, a lingering failure. And the film sketches Anna’s current confusions, her will to independence that wars with her reliance on the grandparents for money, and her meaningless job. The crucial thing she has is her child, and raising her daughter is the source of her passion; it’s the one thing in her life she does well.

All of this is sensitively directed by Leonard Nimoy, who continues to move farther away from the pointed ears of Mr. Spock. Nimoy’s good with actors and he stages individual scenes well, such as the first lovemaking between Keaton and Neeson, which takes place in an artist’s loft full of weird sculptures, casting strange shadows.

On some level, I’m not quite sure what the movie is about, or thinks it’s about. For instance, Keaton’s character describes herself as having “always been frigid,” until she meets the romantic sculptor, with whom she has great sex. Just when she reaches this point, she gets slapped down, and loses the most important thing in her life. The film does not denounce or endorse this theme and you wonder to what extent it is intended.

A lot of what the movie is about, however, seems to be in Diane Keaton’s performance, and I think that is where it succeeds most. Keaton is often accused of mannerism and ditheriness, and she is sometimes guilty. In The Good Mother, she’s still every inch Keaton; Nimoy has given her free rein. So her performance is full of her customary half-sentences, dotty gesticulations, and quicksilver changes of facial expression.

But it seems to be that these Keatonisms are to the point, for this character. She is supposed to be a woman very much in the process of finding herself, and under those circumstances, the performance is all too apt, and frequently poignant.

First published in the Herald, November 1988

One of those How Did This Get Made? movies, made during Nimoy’s unexpected success as a director. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone refer to this film.

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North Shore / Disorderlies

August 5, 2011

North Shore is an inoffensive offspring of the granddaddy of ’60s surfing films, The Endless Summer. It presents an insipid story laced with surfing philosophy and music, wrapped around some nifty stunt footage.

The story is the reliable chestnut about the Arizona surfer kid (Matt Adler) who goes to Hawaii for one gonzo summer before he has to go to college. Once there, he will prove himself before the local bad guys, romance a young wahini (Nia Peeples), and receive the wisdom of the waves from a sort of Zen surfmaster (Gregory Harrison).

It’s formulaic nonsense, but surprisingly easy to take (and remarkably well-timed, given surfing’s cultural resurgence). Some of the stunt photography is good, and there are a few shots where the camera is actually inside the curl of a wave. For those of us too lily-livered to stand on a surfboard, this is the closest we’ll probably ever get to a wipe-out.

But the best thing about the movie is the Eastern wisdom of the phlegmatic Harrison, who disdains competitions and show-off surfing. He says things such as, “He surfs for all the wrong reasons,” and “The pure surfer goes with the wave.” Best line goes to the hero’s girlfriend, who implores him after a spat: “Can’t we find a beach and talk?” Ah, Hawaii.

On an entirely less Zen-like level is Disorderlies, a slob comedy featuring the rap group, The Fat Boys, heretofore glimpsed in Krush Groove. This ramshackle excuse for a movie has been rather astonishingly picked up for distribution by Warner Bros.

The Fat Boys consist of Damon “Kool Rock-Ski” Wimbley, Mark “Prince Markie Dee” Morales, and Darren “The Human Beat Box” Robinson. Their names are the funniest things about them.

The movie casts them as orderlies hired by a mean wimp (Anthony “King Rock Tony” Geary) who wants his rich uncle (Ralph “The Human Groove Master” Bellamy) to die. Naturally, the hefty trio play havoc on Bellamy’s mansion, but win their way into the old codger’s heart in the end.

The comedic style is along the lines of the Three Stooges and Jerry Lewis. There are many fat jokes, and one good line of dialogue (the guys walk into a room furnished with priceless antiques, and one declares, “Man, this guy don’t throw away anything.”). After a half hour or so, the joke—you should pardon the phrase—runs thin.

First published in the Herald, August 19, 1987

Some fond memories of North Shore, mostly because of my weakness for surf-related pictures (and I’m not really so lily-livered, at least not about trying to surf, but the opportunity has been nonexistent, unfortunately). I suppose the key to my embarrassing affection for this movie is buried in the credits: “Story by Randal Kleiser.” The man who made Summer Lovers gets me again. As for Disorderlies, I’m afraid I didn’t keep up with the Fat Boys the way I should have, so I don’t have much to add. I much prefer the Tashlin-Lewis Disorderly Orderly, which I recommend for its sight (and sound) gags and some vintage Lewis babbling: “Oh, friction—burning….”