Reviews: Mother and Child | Goon

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Our film critic takes a look at two of this week’s new releases...

Mother and Child (15)

Directed by: Rodrigo Garcia

Starring: Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L Jackson

Rating: ***

THIS adoption/relationship drama is the indie movie equivalent of dinner theatre, the sort of low-key melodrama that offers a little artistic nourishment courtesy of a few name stars, but mostly relies on them to buffer an overly schematic story and prevent it from collapsing under the weight of implausibility.

Naomi Watts stars as Elizabeth, a brittle, single lawyer with a forthright attitude to sex that is clearly symptomatic of the abandonment issues she feels at having been given up for adoption when she was born. Annette Bening is Karen, the mother who gave her up as a 14-year-old – a sensible-seeming decision at the time, but one that has become a source of sadness and regret as she’s drifted into middle age.

The film tells both women’s stories in tandem, gradually dovetailing together as Karen finds new happiness with single father Paco (Jimmy Smits) and Elizabeth falls pregnant after first seducing her boss (Samuel L Jackson) then sleeping with her about-to-be-a-father neighbour. Both actresses give the kind of powerhouse performances that thrive in the space afforded them by writer-director Rodrigo Garcia’s generous script. Alas, his decision to complicate matters by tying their fate to an infertile woman (Kerry Washington) whose desperation to be a mother leads her on a heart-breaking quest to adopt, stretches credibility to breaking point, relying as it does on some honking plot contrivances and mystical chat about the nature of fate (it’s no surprise to see Babel director Alejandro González Iñárritu listed as an executive producer).

The last act lurch into soft-focus sentimentality also does the film no favours – undercutting its spikier elements rather than complementing them. Nevertheless, Bening and Watts are good enough to see it through, and it’s good to see Jackson actually play his age for once.

Goon (15)

Directed by: Michael Dowse

Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Liev Schrieber, Alison Pill

Rating: *

IN THE pantheon of watchable ice hockey movies there’s the Paul Newman-starring Slap Shot, followed – at some distance – by Jean Claude Van Damme’s Die Hard-on-ice actioner Sudden Death, maybe Youngblood and (at a push) The Mighty Ducks. Aside from that it’s a straight fight between various Mighty Ducks and Slap Shot sequels to determine which film deserves to spend most time in the sin bin for crimes against sports movies. Unfortunately, to this last group must now be added Goon, an operatically stupid, tonally deranged comedy-drama, co-written by Seth Rogen’s regular writing partner Evan Goldberg (Superbad) and starring Seann William Scott as a slow-witted bouncer who finds a place for his protective brand of pugilism in the world of minor league Canadian ice hockey.

If that premise already sounds terrible, the film is even worse, thanks to Scott playing his character, Doug the Thug, as an unfunny cross between Derek Zoolander and every rage-afflicted character Adam Sandler has ever played. Sweetly naïve but given to extreme bouts of face-pummeling violence, as Doug encounters various Neanderthal-like players on his way up the ranks, the character’s limited intelligence is exploited by the film’s makers as both a source of ridicule and a way to justify the nasty strain of homophobia and misogyny running through the film. Adding limited narrative meat is a risible love story involving a cute, heavy drinking hockey groupie (Alison Pill) who vows to transform her self-confessed “slutty ways” after Doug’s straight-shooting devotion to her wears down her resistance. There’s also an extended cameo for Liev Schrieber, who shows up as a veteran “goon” – hockey parlance for brawler – whose presence inevitably helps Doug understand his place in the world a little more. Alas, in over-doing the violence, under-cooking the comedy and botching the drama, this isn’t so much skating on thin ice as willfully crashing through it.