The Good Mother is a serviceable and forgettable thriller that feels rushed and compromised by budget and runtime constraints. Photo courtesy of SSS Entertainment

Film Review: The Good Mother

Film Reviews

The Good Mother
Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte

SSS Entertainment and Artemis Pictures
In Theaters: 09.01

I always look forward to the September movie season because it’s when we start to see more serious-minded films coming out. The Good Mother is the epitome of a September thriller—a promising concept, big stars and ambitions that far exceed its grasp.

Two-time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) stars as Marissa Bennings, a journalist with two sons: Toby (Jack Reynor, Sing Street, Midsommar), a straight-laced police officer and devoted son, and Michael (Madsion Harrison, As You Are), a hardcore drug addict banned from his home and living on the streets. When Michael is murdered, Marissa comes to a tentative truce with his now-sober and very pregnant girlfriend, Paige (Olivia Cooke, Ready Player One, Sound of Metal). Together, the two women are determined to track down Michael’s killers. The two confront a world of corruption and drugs in the seedy underbelly of a small city in upstate New York, and as they get closer to the truth, they unearth an even darker secret.

The Good Mother has the making of a great character drama, as the open hostility between Marissa and Paige—the grieving mother walks over and slaps the younger woman across the face when she shows up to Michael’s funeral—grows into an initially reluctant partnership and, eventually, a familial bond. While Sian Heder’s 2016 film Tallulah covered similar territory, I still found myself wishing that The Good Mother had focused more on this relationship and far less on the mystery, perhaps even leaving that element out entirely. The question of who killed Michael and why is never as intriguing as whether the two women who loved him most will be able to forgive and live with each other for the good of the baby. 

While the thriller aspect provides moments of suspense, it’s a by-the-numbers mystery, and it often just gets in the way of what could have been a much more sophisticated and insightful film. At a mere 90-minute runtime, neither aspect of the story gets much of a chance to be fleshed out, and many plot points are left dangling. Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte (Dreamland), who co-wrote the screenplay with actor Madison Harrison and composed the score, might have done better to focus his energy solely on perfecting the script and bringing in a more seasoned veteran behind the camera.

Swank brings gravity to the role, and it’s great to see her playing the lead in a feature film. Cooke is one of the most mesmerizing and talented actresses of her generation, and the pairing is so appealing that it’s hard not to recommend The Good Mother just for the chance to watch them together. Reynor is a terrific actor who adds to every scene he’s in, though this pivotal character is under written with too many questions about him left unanswered, leaving the film with a frustrating aftertaste. Hopper Penn (Flag Day) is an interesting presence as Ducky, Michael’s best friend and dealer. The film is definitely meant as a star vehicle for Swank, and she’s up to the task, though Cooke deserves more screen time.

The Good Mother is a serviceable and forgettable thriller that feels rushed and compromised by budget and runtime constraints. Far too often it undercuts its own potential by focusing too much on trying to provide twists and not enough on the natural human drama. It’s a rare film that needed to be a half-hour longer if it was truly going to work. There’s a terrific film begging to be realized here, and it’s a shame that we have to settle for this version. –Patrick Gibbs

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