The Good Mother (2023)

Not much that’s good about this ‘Mother’

When your film drops on Labor Day weekend, long established as Death Valley for ticket sales, you know the studio lacks confidence in its ability to lure a crowd. Such is the fate of “The Good Mother,” destined to have cash registers mimicking crickets.

Sure, it features Hilary Swank, thanklessly attempting to flesh out a burned-out newspaper reporter on the hunt for her son’s killer. But beyond that tempting morsel, there’s little else to nosh on in writer-director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s wonky homage to his native Albany, N.Y.

Not the sexiest of locations to begin with, Joris-Peyrafitte struggles to make compelling use of it as a backdrop for a cliche-riddled tale of fentanyl wreaking havoc on the city’s disaffected youth. The scourge’s latest victim is Michael Jennings, the youngest son of Swank’s Marissa, an alcohol-abusing member on the Albany Times Union’s copy desk. Like Mom, Michael indulged in his own form of substance abuse… until the night he overdosed on lead injected by an assassin’s bullet.

Who would want to kill a two-bit junkie out for an apparent midnight jog? That’s the alleged mystery consuming Marissa and her dead son’s baby mama, Paige (Olivia Cooke from the Cohasset-shot “Thoroughbreds”). The prime suspect is the laughably named Ducky, another addict from “the old neighborhood” marred by lousy parenting. He’s played by Hopper Penn (son of Sean) in a limp performance suggesting he’s no chip off the old block.

He’s hardly the only member of this cut-rate ensemble struggling to pump life into a predictable script by Joris-Peyrafitte and fellow Albanian, Madison Harrison, that mistakes murkiness for clarity. Also falling victim to this one-dimensional affliction is Jack Reynor as Michael’s older brother, Toby, an Albany cop bending the rules to aid his mom and Paige in their obsessive hunt for a killer they least expect. But it’s a perp most folks will spot before they’re a sixth of the way through an action-starved 90 minutes of TV cop show tropes.

Swank, sans makeup, chucks all vanity in her portrayal of a once-great reporter whose lost mojo is drowning at the bottom of a glass of bourbon. Surely, her son’s death and the nagging questions posed by Paige (after Marissa whacks her across the chops at Michael’s funeral) will reignite that snuffed-out pilot light. That is if she lives to write about it.

Despite affording the film its lone spark, Joris-Peyrafitte inexplicably forces the two-time Oscar winner to take a backseat to Cooke, an actress whose praise for roles in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “Sound of Metal” has long escaped me. She’s OK here in a thinly drawn role, but it’s Swank you want to see.

Well, that is whenever you can see her, or anything for that matter, in a picture so poorly lit by cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby you’re hard-pressed at times to make out what in the heck is going on. By the end, you couldn’t care less about any of it. A growing indifference intensified by the lamest of open endings. It will infuriate even the most tolerant, assuming by then you’re still invested in this tipsy “Mother.”

Movie review

The Good Mother

Rated: Not rated

Cast: Hilary Swank, Olivia Cooke, Jack Reynor, Dilone and Hooper Penn.

Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte

Writers: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and Madison Harrison

Runtime: 90 minutes

Grade: C+

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