Movie review: The Good Mother

Empire State Plaza

I’m parochial enough to admit that I was actively rooting for me to love the movie The Good Mother.

Paul Grondahl “was allowed to read the script and was granted access to [the] 12-hour filming at the Times Union. As a reporter who worked at the paper for 32 years,” he felt “the script captures the strain of working at a daily newspaper that is struggling to remain financially viable and journalistically meaningful in a clickbait social media landscape. ” True, and this shows up in the movie, though it’s a minor part of the narrative.

Grondahl, who I’ve enjoyed reading for decades and who “wrote a long series of articles on the opioid epidemic,” believed that “the narrative shows how the opioid epidemic hit close to home and ravaged many ordinary lives, while conveying the gritty authenticity of Albany in all its bruised glory… It is not a flattering cinematic version of the Capital City. Still, it is a truthful portrait shot through with love from a director who has an abiding affection for his hometown.”

A good cause

Moreover, “following the quick sellout of a special screening co-presented by New York State Writers Institute and Film Albany, which included an awards presentation and talkback with director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and co-writer Madison Harrison, the Madison Theatre dedicated its remaining theater space to ‘The Good Mother.’ While the added screenings exclude the talkback, a portion of the ticket proceeds for the additional screenings will benefit Youth FX, the award-winning film studio and education program empowering young filmmakers of color.” Incidentally, Grondahl, who I know a bit, leads the Writers Institute.

And heck, during the 2022 filming, Hilary Swank helped return a lost dog named Blue to its shocked owner.

The setup

Here are parts of C.J. Lais’ review in the TU.  It notes “four main stars in the new thriller… — Hilary Swank, Olivia Cooke, Jack Reynor … and the Empire State Plaza. No joke, director and co-writer Miles Joris-Peyrafitte cuts to the brutalist government building complex so often I expected to see Nelson Rockefeller listed among the thank-yous in the film’s end credits…

“Set in 2016 amid the opioid crisis that had a stranglehold on the country, including the Capital Region, the movie centers around Times Union reporter-turned-editor Marissa Bennings (Swank), the paper’s ‘best writer’ who doesn’t write anymore. She’s already numb and numbing herself further with alcohol long before her cop son (Reynor) interrupts an editorial meeting to deliver the news that her other son, Michael, a once-promising baseball star-turned-junkie and drug dealer, has been shot dead in Arbor Hill.” Swank’s Mriisa is also numb from the grief of a spouse who died before the story unfolds.

“Marissa soon teams up, albeit reluctantly at first, with her dead son’s pregnant girlfriend Paige (Cooke) to discover the true nature of the murder and the seeming conspiracy surrounding it, including the possible complicity of Michael’s best friend, Ducky (Hopper Penn), a fellow addict and his partner in crime.”  

True enough

I agree with some aspects of Lais ‘ review. “The film’s original title [was Mother’s Milk and is a better one than the generic one now, with several layers of meaning and on-screen references. A marketing decision, I fear…” And there are at least two other films with the same title, from 1988 and 2013, plus a 2009 documentary.

“It’s a blast to see local landmarks like the Palais Royale, the Jesus Saves Mission sign, Nipper, and the Rensselaer train station immortalized on film. ” VERY true.

“Cooke.. might play the most tragic character of all, a young woman so bright, so capable of anything she set her mind to, if only she hadn’t trapped herself in this inescapable life.” I saw her in Sound of Metal.

“Irish-born Reynor (‘Midsommar’) is effective in the ‘good son’ role.” He was okay. “Penn, the son of Sean Penn and Robin Wright, has some of his dad’s early, squirrely energy playing Ducky.” Sure.

“Model Dilone as Reynor’s wife represents yet another view of motherhood. Broadway vet Norm Lewis lends the requisite gravity to a role as regal and important as the editor of the Times Union…

“But it might be Karen Aldridge (‘Fargo’) who makes the most visceral impact in a small role. Her anguished monologue during a support group meeting presents some gut-wrenching truths and stellar acting choices. ” She was VERY compelling.


And yet, the finished product on the screen felt murky and unfocused. There are too many unnecessary long shots of the Empire State Plaza. (Yes, we’re in Albany. I get it, I get it. )

Lais stated that Joris-Peyrafitte “takes us on a journey through the underbelly of Albany, finding allure in its squalor and hope in its apparent hopelessness.” I wasn’t feeling the hope, or indeed how  I should respond.

Ultimately, I agree with most of the Rotten Tomatoes reviews, only 19% positive with the critics and 32% with audiences. Carla Hay wrote: “The Good Mother had the potential to be a better mystery thriller than it is, but the movie is undone by scenes that are either monotonous or predictable until it limps along to a very underwhelming ending. The big ‘plot reveal’ is not surprising.” Katie Walsh: “The screenplay strains for topicality, stuffing too many elements at once into this sad story in a bid for relevance that never quite resonates.”

As noted, I was rooting heavily for The Good Mother. Yet I was ultimately disappointed; the problem was largely in the editing. Still, I’m glad I saw it. Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and his boyhood pal, Madison Harrison, have some talent I look forward to seeing on screen.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

One thought on “Movie review: The Good Mother”

  1. Hi Roger,
    I really was absorbed while viewing this film opening night, not just due to the Albany scenes and authenticity.
    Perhaps it was my going to the movie solo and sitting in a calm side theatre and then getting caught in a lightening storm in the way out.
    As I spied William Kennedy in the theatre this led me to compare the content to his Albany trilogy. The alcohol trade has been replaced by the out of town drug runners. The ending reminded me of the Legs Diamond assassination which was never solved although known. So you can guess what I believed happened after the open end of the mystery. A very good first attempt from a young film maker. Most of my homegrown apples have flaws, but I respect your criticisms! Fred

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial