Film reviews: Mothers' Instinct | Steve! | Disco Boy | Late Night with the Devil

Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain are on entertainingly melodramatic form in Benoît Delhomme’s small town psychodrama Mothers’ Instinct, writes Alistair Harkness

Mothers’ Instinct (15) ***

Steve! N/A ***

Disco Boy (15) ****

Late Night with the Devil (15) **

As a pair of Kennedy-era suburban housewives whose parenting neuroses start having an adverse effect on their friendship, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain are on entertainingly melodramatic form in Mothers’ Instinct, an enjoyably overwrought psychodrama that plays like a throwback in style (if not period setting) to 1990s thrillers such as Single White Female and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. Sharing scenes together for the first time (they previously appeared in Interstellar), both stars certainly have juicy roles, with Hathaway particularly good as Celine, a kind of small town Jackie Kennedy who suddenly finds herself consumed by grief following a family tragedy. Chastain is similarly compelling as her mentally fragile neighbour, Alice, whose fear for her own child’s safety starts fuelling paranoid thoughts about Celine’s encroachment on her family in her hour of need.

Though the early parts present their lives in fairly humdrum fashion, the film seeds enough discontent in to make each woman’s subsequent descent into craziness plausibly of a piece with the overall kitschy vibe. What’s missing in cinematographer-turned-director Benoît Delhomme’s directorial debut is the delectably deranged energy Todd Haynes recently brought to May December. Where that film subverted psychodrama clichés, Delhomme’s embraces them, which makes for a slicker film, but a more conventional and disposable one too.

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Split into two distinct parts, the new Steve Martin documentary Steve! serves up a three-hour, somewhat comprehensive portrait of the intensely private comedian and movie star. From a British viewer’s perspective, the first part, “Then”, is the most intriguing, focussing as it does on his stand-up career, when his “wild and crazy guy” schtick made him the biggest comedian in America while he remained relatively unknown elsewhere. Able to sell out stadiums and shift millions of copies of his albums, he achieved rockstar levels of fame and director Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) manages to put us in that moment by using archival footage and voice-only interviews to chart both Martin’s meteoric rise and his subsequent decision to walk away from stand-up at the top of his game, aged just 35.

Mothers' InstinctMothers' Instinct
Mothers' Instinct

When the film shifts to “Now”, however, we join Martin 40 years later and it becomes a more conventional doc, mixing faux fly-on-the-wall footage with talking-head interviews and archival clips. The result is a pleasant but very controlled portrait of someone who has latterly managed to find genuine fulfilment in his life with a wife, a young child, a beautiful home, an incredible art collection, a hit TV show and a creatively satisfying comedy partnership with Martin Short.

As content as he claims to be, though, Martin still manages to come across as a reluctant participant, which weirdly reduces Neville to a kind of Bowfinger figure – the B-movie filmmaker Martin played in the film of the same name who is forced to engineer lots of contrived scenarios to covertly shoot the star he wants for his movie because they don’t want to be in it. Martin obviously isn’t that uncooperative, but aside from repeatedly invoking his difficult relationship with his father as the reason for his solitary nature (it may also explain his thin skin when it comes to criticism), anecdotes that might go some way to illuminating his life are offered up wincingly.

Colonialism and clubbing make for intriguingly odd bedfellows in Disco Boy, a kind of abstract war movie revolving around Alexei (Franz Rogowski), a Belarussian immigrant who illegally crosses into France, joins the Foreign Legion and promptly finds himself doing his adoptive country’s bidding in Nigeria in return for French citizenship. There, a violent encounter with Jomo (Morr Ndiaye), the imposing leader of a band of Nigerian rebels, catalyses an existential breakdown that starts manifesting itself in a shady Parisian nightclub as Alexei becomes obsessed with a dancer who may or may not be Jomo’s sister, Udoka (Laetitia Ky).

Marking the fiction debut of French-based Italian documentary maker Giacomo Abbruzzese, Disco Boy operates like a trippy fever dream, its heavy themes graspable in moments of blissed out chaos, as in the aforementioned contretemps between Jomo and Alexei. Playing out in a melange of thermal imaging, their societally marginalised bodies literally and figuratively bleeding into each other, what’s presented here as a moment of violence in the jungle could just as easily have been a moment of ecstasy-fuelled hedonism on a dancefloor had global circumstances been different.


Even leaving aside the cost-cutting controversy Late Night with the Devil has incurred by using AI to generate artwork used in the film, this much-hyped indie horror squanders a promising premise with corny execution, a botched found-footage framing device and a general lack of tension. David Dastmalchian takes the lead – and is pretty good – as a 1970s US TV talkshow host whose ongoing desperation for ratings results in his annual Halloween-themed show getting out of hand when a trio of occult-dabbling guests start wreaking havoc on set in a way that may or may not be genuine. Though vaguely recalling the 1992 British TV mockumentary Ghost Watch in its premise, sibling directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes don’t have the skills to create the requisite sense of ambiguity to keep us guessing about whether or not this broadcast is a ratings-juicing scam or really happening. It doesn’t help that their opening gambit pointlessly gives the game away by setting up a Rosemary’s Baby style backstory for Dastmalchian. What a shame.

Mothers’ Instinct is in cinemas from 27 March; Steve! streams on AppleTV+ from 29 March; Disco Boy is in cinemas from 29 March; Late Night with the Devil is in cinemas now