Ewan McGregor in a frustratingly absurd drama – The Hollywood Reporter

Like the huge, discontinued furniture store in which Mother, couch The film is a collection of fascinating pieces, most of which are left unassembled or taken out of context and whose potential remains unfulfilled. A highlight of the elements swirling around this echo chamber of tense surrealism is the committed ensemble cast. It’s led by Ewan McGregor, a stressed-out husband and father who, with little help from anyone around him, tries to lure his mother (a wigged, scowling Ellen Burstyn) out of the store where she’s set up shop.

Rhys Ifans and Lara Flynn Boyle round out the story’s central trio of siblings, with Taylor Russell and F. Murray Abraham also living in his strange world, a place that is not what it seems. Whatever drew this strong cast to Niclas Larsson’s debut film remains elusive in the finished product, raising questions about the illogical situation the characters find themselves in but never creating a compelling need to answer them.

Mother, couch

The conclusion

Ambitious but too disjointed to achieve the intended blow.

Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Pour: Ewan McGregor, Ellen Burstyn, Rhys Ifans, Taylor Russell, Lara Flynn Boyle, F Murray Abraham, Lake Bell, Kenna Blackburn
Director-screenwriter: Niclas Larsson; based on the novel Mom, I sofa by Jerker Virdborg

1 hour 36 minutes

Adaptation of the absurd novel by Jerker Virdborg Mom, I sofa (Translation: “Mom on Sofa”), Larsson, a Swedish actor-turned-filmmaker (who has previously focused on short films and commercials), has created a puzzle of narrative non sequiturs and arresting images. The camerawork is by Chayse Irvin, who mainly moves through elaborately designed sets, but also compares inexplicable locations in California with scenes from autumn on the East Coast. Late in the story, after a torrential rain, Irvin captures a vision of McGregor’s character in front of a partially functioning neon sign. The scene is notable for its stunning beauty, but its intended emotional impact is, emblematic of the film as a whole, diluted by all the exhausting madness that surrounds it.

Mother, couch However, the film begins promisingly, with a spark of dry humor in the personality conflict between McGregor’s teased David and his older brother Gruffudd (Ifans), who is as easy-going as David is uptight. David, who was supposed to be on his way to his daughter’s birthday party – as calls from his wife Anne (Lake Bell) remind him – was sent to the emergency room at Oakbeds Furniture, where his mother has declared her intention to remain seated on a green one Couch. To be on the safe side, she carries a knife to fend off any attempt to remove them.

David arrives in a black suit and tie – hardly children’s party attire and the first indication that we are entering a hall full of metaphorical mirrors. Some of the rooms at Oakbeds, a huge, crowded department store in the middle of a parking lot on the edge of the world, are decorated and fully functional, all the better for what will become an overnight stay for David, complete with a home-cooked meal prepared by Bella ( Russell), the young branch manager with whom Gruffudd has begun a warm flirtation. Apparently he also filled her in on family dynamics and facts: “So you’re 48,” she says in greeting as David enters the chaos and gloom of the company.

In “Oakbeds” and a quick trip to Mother’s house, Mikael Varhelyi’s great production design is an atmospheric jumble of furniture and bits and pieces. Both as commodities and as a life’s accumulated treasures, scraps and secrets, the stuff has an appeal, and McGregor is convincingly distraught, like a man struggling to find his balance against the weight. But the scenes where David is completely against it – a breakdown while talking to the 911 operator; a disturbing near-disaster day at the beach with his young daughter – feels like a trip to another movie.

For good reason, David always felt discredited and excluded. Gruffudd is quite pleasant in his easy-going way, even though he hasn’t invited his brother to his wedding. Her angry sister Linda (Boyle), with her harsh blonde hair and constant cigarette smoking, is a younger version of the mother she despises. Burstyn intensifies the gaze, and Mother spits out bitter memories coupled with refreshingly unsentimental views on parenting. Such moments of candor land like drops of information as they sit amidst the ongoing weirdness of Oakbeds. F. Murray Abraham’s dual roles as Marcus and Marco, the brothers who own the store, add to the weirdness. One brother is friendly, one is not, and neither proves to be a believable character.

It is Oakbeds caretaker Bella, played by Russell with a deadpan combination of friendliness and complete lack of decorum, who most convincingly strikes a balance between the literal and the figurative in the bizarre retail environment. She oscillates between seductive, innocent and motherly and becomes a kind of therapist for David, luring him out by stating the obvious. “You all seem so broken,” she says of the three siblings. His fidgety reaction clearly shows how much she hit a nerve.

Christopher Bear’s score signals the different moods Larsson’s script evokes. There is a whimsy with a pull. There is the pervasive fear of a scary tension. Finally, there is a childlike rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It’s nice to see a filmmaker take risks and explore non-linear ways to tell a story. No matter what mystery the writer-director is trying to concoct here, it never quite reaches a satisfying boil, let alone the kind of full dramatic boil that the material needs. Despite all the narrative subterfuges and complications Mother, couchit ends with a muted, disappointing thud.

Brian Ashcraft

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