The Mother is a moody and unbalanced action movie that is still worth watching for the standout performances by Jennifer Lopez and Lucy Paez, the young actress who plays her daughter.
*This review contains mild spoilers.*
The film begins with Lopez’s character, a mercenary for hire, being interrogated by the FBI as she turns state’s evidence against her former lovers and arms dealers. The interrogation goes wrong, and one of the woman’s lovers, Adrian (Joseph Fiennes), attacks the house, the agents, and her. Lopez’s character fights him off, and we find out she’s pregnant – the Mother – in a rather dramatic moment with him.
The Mother is convinced to give up her baby for adoption for the child’s safety in a blink-and-you-‘ll-miss-it moment with an FBI head honcho, played by Edie Falco. She agrees but makes a side deal for updates on the child with one of the agents she saved, played by Omari Hardwick. Hardwick’s Cruise will send her birthday pictures and tell The Mother if the child is in trouble. Years later, the woman, now known as “The Mother,” lives quietly in the Alaskan wilderness. She has no contact with her daughter, who was adopted by a loving but boring family with a safe life. However, the daughter’s peaceful life is shattered when her mother’s enemies target her. The Mother must now use her skills to protect the child she gave up.
There’s a lot of unrealized promise in this movie. It works as a mid-budget action filler, the kind of movie that was once a studio staple, but The Mother had the potential to be iconic. You can almost hear the pitch in some executive’s office – it’s Liam Neeson’s Taken, but instead of featuring a doggedly determined dad, it features Jennifer Lopez as a badass, wrapped in the cloak of maternal sacrifice, on a mission. But instead of solidifying Jennifer Lopez’s position as an action star and providing an antidote to action movies that ooze machismo, The Mother doesn’t quite hit the mark, and that’s frustrating.
At first glance, The Mother seems straightforward, but its narrative simplicity belies its complex themes. And that’s part of why it’s so frustrating. We are given glimpses of what could have been. There are hints of a story with more depth anchored in the relationship between Mother and daughter, which are tantalizing, but just out of reach and never fully realized. The best parts of The Mother are the moments in the second half between Lopez and the actress playing her daughter, Lucy Paez. Lopez, as the Mother, is determined to protect the child that doesn’t know her. Lopez’s mother is rough around the edges but with a warm heart.
The Mother just wants what’s best for her child, and that hasn’t been her for most of her life. Paez brings vulnerability, justified disbelief, and, sometimes, anger to the role. Both actresses are completely believable in this relationship, and it’s a joy to watch on screen. With limited minutes on screen, Paez and Lopez portray a parent-and-child dynamic that’s extremely satisfying to watch. There’s a lot of exposition in this film when it comes to The Mother’s backstory. The movie falls into the classic trap of telling and not showing, and the backstory origin scenes, although they showcase the origin of Lopez’s character in her badassery with a touch of heart, slow down the film’s pace and cause it to be unbalanced.
The villains, too, in this film are underdeveloped. There are two of them, and both are star actors in their own right. Joseph Fiennes and Gael García Bernal have filmographies laden with nominations and awards, but you wouldn’t know it from The Mother. They try their best with the material, but their characters are underdeveloped and uncompelling, and, at best, sexually menacing for no good reason.
One thing worth praising is how refreshing the existence of this movie is — and I hope we see more. Jennifer Lopez is 53 years old (older than Rue McClanahan when she started on the Golden Girls), and she owns the physicality and stoicism of this role. She shines as a hard-bodied action star; if only she had better material to work with. You can feel the death by a thousand notes from studio executives in this film. Jennifer Lopez is a bona fide movie star and deserves better than this. The Mother is a bit of a slog at an hour and fifty-five minutes and would have benefitted from a tighter edit – there’s a reason most mid-budget thrillers of yore hit a shorter sweet spot with time. Still, the movie is worth watching, if only for Jennifer Lopez, Lucy Paez, and Niki Caro’s directing.
Should Be Considered: None
Where to Watch: Netflix
A writer in the Washington, DC area.
Her true love is Star Trek. One day she hopes she can actually visit a holodeck in real life.
Favorite Director: M. Night Shyamalan
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