Film Review: In spite of Hilary Swank’s committed performance, The Good Mother can’t maintain its narrative grit

Though it isn’t based on a true story, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte‘s drama The Good Mother has an air of “real world” grit to it.  Of course, once the film commits to a certain narrative twist around the 1-hour mark it feels less organic, but its down-trodden location of Albany, New York, and the fact that its lead character is an unglamorous journalist lean in to a certain storytelling credibility the film hopes is enough to polish its ultimate farfetchedness.

Starting off on a sombre note, The Good Mother‘s titular archetype is Marissa Bennings (Hilary Swank), an Albany Times-Union reporter who, seemingly after a night of heavy drinking, has pulled herself together enough to go to work.  Already an unpleasant presence to be around, her day is made all the worse when her son, Toby (Jack Reynor), interrupts a meeting to inform her that her other son, Michael, his brother, has died.

We gather it’s been a few months since Marissa and Michael had any contact, with his crippling heroin addiction evidently the cause of their estrangement.  Michael’s death, however, was not a drug overdose, but a drive-by shooting, which flips both Marissa’s maternal and journalistic instincts on, believing there’s more to his death than just a drug deal gone awry.

Marissa’s suspicions are mirrored in Paige (Olivia Cooke), Michael’s pregnant girlfriend, who, after being decked by Marissa at Michael’s funeral, is begrudgingly welcomed into the fold.  Neither of the women care for each other, but there’s a mutual bond through Michael, and it’s their relationship that proves The Good Mother‘s most interesting narrative aspect.  Whilst Michael’s death is undeniably intriguing and Joris-Peyrafitte’s script – written in collaboration with Madison Harrison (As You Are) – does its best to keep us invested over the course of the film’s tight 89 minutes, Marissa and Paige’s dynamic continually overshadows the investigation, and by the time anything is revealed regarding Michael’s death, it feels a little too late.

The film’s reveal pertaining to Michael, whilst unforeseen, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the grand scheme of The Good Mother‘s overall structure, and it’s this “twist-for-twist-sake” mentality that then undoes any of the goodwill the film laid bare.  Characters are introduced and abandoned without so much as a care, and with the film then adopting a more ludicrous temperament, any naturality the characters had is similarly done away with.

Unsure what genre personality it wants to commit to, The Good Mother is a figure of initial intrigue and relatable solemnness before it succumbs to expected thriller grandeur; In wanting to solve the mystery at its core, the film undoes the grim reality of the unanswered nature it feels as if it wants to live in.

TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Good Mother is available on all On Demand platforms in the United States from September 19th, 2023.  It is expected to be released in Australia on DVD and Digital on November 1st.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.