‘Mother!’ of mercy: One very challenging movie

If you base it strictly on the ads, you might think you know what you’re getting into with “Mother!” … but it’s extremely likely that you don’t.

A few things should indicate that. For one, its principal stars are Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, and their tastes tend to reach far beyond standard material. (Well, OK: Lawrence did make “House at the End of the Street,” but everybody’s entitled to one.)

And the writer-director is Darren Aronofsky, whose knack for challenging moviegoers is clear from such past projects as “Black Swan” and “Requiem for a Dream.” That surely is his intent again here.

The trick is to talk/write about “Mother!” without giving up too much, because the picture’s purpose is to zig when you think it’s going to zag. The stars play a couple whose names never are disclosed, with the husband as a poet struggling with creative block while his wife refurbishes their Victorian home.

Jennifer Lawrence stars in "Mother!"
Jennifer Lawrence stars in “Mother!”

They’re visited – or, maybe more appropriately, invaded – by a couple of strangers played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris. When their bizarre sons (Domhnall and Brendan Gleeson, who actually are siblings) also show up, things shift from mildly humorous to nasty, especially for Lawrence’s character.

Aronofsky seems to have a grip on what he wants to do in “Mother!”, and at times, he may be the only one. This is very much an artist’s vision, but for anyone else involved or watching, “fever dream” might be the phrase that comes to mind for the picture’s overall effect.

You have to appreciate the actors for hanging with it, because with something like this, you’re either really “in” or really not. A lot of the heavy lifting falls to Lawrence, since she’s the audience’s surrogate as the complete outsider in the situation. You’ll likely be as baffled as she is – if not more – as events develop, but she has to remain a believable touchstone for the viewer, something that gets ever more challenging as the tale proceeds toward its final act.

It certainly is different, but for all its artistic flourishes that confirm Aronofsky as a filmmaker like no other who’s active these days (and that’s for better or for worse), “Mother!” ultimately might make you want to cry “Uncle!”.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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