The Good Mother

The Good Mother starts off strong, then makes a catastrophic mistake about halfway through. For a while, it’s the story of Marissa Bennings (Hilary Swank), an alcoholic newspaper editor. Her estranged son Mikey (Madison Harrison) has just been brutally gunned down in the street. She wants to find the culprit. Her other son, cop Toby (Jack Reynor), suggests the investigating be left to him.

Of course, she doesn’t listen. Marissa teams up with Mikey’s girlfriend Paige (Olivia Cooke) to figure out what led to the murder. The motive, they learn, has to do with trafficking fentanyl, that insidious drug that has been taking lives left and right the past few years. The women grapple with accepting that the person they loved was lost to the drug. We suspect Marissa might abandon editing and return to writing, specifically to expose the impact fentanyl is having on her community.

That’s a promising trajectory, one Swank and Cooke are certainly capable of turning into something special. The former conveys the deep-seated pain of knowing her child has succumbed to addiction from a substance that renders its victims defenseless. The latter brings grittiness to Paige, making her somebody who understands a life lived on the edge. Then you have Jack Reynor, doing exceptional work as the mourning brother trying to help his mom hold on. All three actors are fully committed to their roles.

Unfortunately, The Good Mother abandons any chance to comment meaningfully on the fentanyl crisis. The movie instead introduces a plot twist that immediately shifts the story into more of a thriller mode. Even worse, the twist is a tired old cliché, versions of which have been included in dozens of other films. It’s cheap, designed to shock audiences, as though being shocking is the same as achieving depth. Those are very different things. The twist forces the plot into melodramatics rather than spurring the audience to consider the tragedy of opioid addiction.

Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte also has an annoying tendency to cut to lengthy drone shots of Albany, New York, where the movie is set. Whenever he doesn’t know what to do, he gives us an overhead view of the city. The amount of screen time wasted on such establishing shots is not insignificant. It dulls any momentum the picture might try to generate.

Seeing Swank, Cooke, and Reynor wasted in a movie that doesn’t follow through on its potential is disheartening. The Good Mother could have been one of the year’s best, most emotionally devastating pictures, as opposed to a misfire that’s destined to be quickly forgotten.

out of four

The Good Mother is rated R for language throughout, some violent content, and drug material. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.