review for Mother on AllMovie

Mother (1996)
by Derek Armstrong review

Albert Brooks' Mother would be a winning achievement if only for providing Debbie Reynolds her best showcase in years, which many critics thought should have earned her an Oscar nomination. But it also makes a natural next chapter in Brooks' career-long, painfully honest examination of how neuroses stunt his recurring character type, which is as thinly autobiographical and sardonically humorous as the characters Woody Allen writes for himself. What more Freudian way to get at issues of self-loathing, romantic dysfunction, and writer's block than to have his character move back in with Mom? Brooks' deadpan frustration works wonderfully alongside the deceptive congeniality of Reynolds, a passive-aggressive woman who's frugal with both her money (she's been preserving a frozen block of cheese for years) and her positive reinforcement. Reynolds strikes a quirky balance between ingrained mothering that has become rote by repetition, and the seeming indifference bordering on resentment she has developed for her son. The film is basically a series of embarrassing episodes that flesh out their hilariously complex relationship -- she gently berates him with backhanded compliments, he openly challenges her long-standing idiosyncrasies. The character study provides the film steady propulsion toward a resolution that helps them see each other as real people, rather than family members long ago taken for granted. And when this involves Brooks grappling with his mother's ongoing sex life, well, that's just the writer/director at his stomach-churning best.