[NoHo Arts District, CA] – This month’s movie and TV reviews of The Mother and Still.
One of my favorite Jennifer Lopez films is Out of Sight, where she played a bounty hunter in a neat adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel. (Her character, Karen Sisco, became the lead in a short-lived series starring Carla Gugino, but that’s another story). It was only a matter of time before Jennifer Lopez would take on a full-fledged action role (as opposed to supporting male action stars), which she does in the new Netflix film The Mother, directed by Niki Caro. Of course, Lopez’s character is not just any Mother. In the opening sequence (set years before the main action), Lopez is undergoing a grueling interrogation because of her very intimate association with some arms dealers, played with gusto by Gael Garcia Bernal and Joseph Fiennes. Before you know it, all hell breaks loose, and in the midst of the carnage we see that the Mother is very pregnant—and in imminent danger of losing both her life and her unborn child. However, since this film is called The Mother and since Lopez is the star, you can be sure that both Mother and child will survive, but because of the tenuous nature of the Mother’s lifespan on this Earth, she is strongly advised (by Edie Falco) to give up the child and live in relative anonymity. After a modicum of soul-searching, Lopez leaves the child and heads to the woods, but sooner than you can say Stella Dallas, she’s informed by a sympathetic FBI agent (Omari Hardwicke) that everyone’s cover is blown (these arms dealers are nothing if not persistent) and that her now twelve-year old daughter is in danger of being kidnapped—or worse.
This leads to a flurry of efficiently staged action set-pieces as Lopez’s Mother uses her own formidable expertise (as a sniper) to prevent the kidnapping (that she doesn’t isn’t for lack of trying), then pursue the bad guys—first Bernal, then Fiennes—in order to protect and save her child. Lopez does well, given the expectations and limitations of the genre. The Mother undergoes punishment of all kinds—physical in the action sequences (hers is no superhero) and emotional as she tries to connect with her daughter without letting on she is her mother (an unnecessary contrivance, given everyone knows Lopez is the Mother). She’s tough and terse, leaving daughter Zoey (Lucy Paez) to carry the bulk of the dialogue (and emotional upheaval) in their scenes together. Fiennes and Bernal have a good time playing the evil arms dealers, and the climax is satisfying without overstaying its welcome. It’s worth a shot.
More satisfying and moving is Still, the new documentary on Michael J. Fox that is beautifully done and features Fox front and center discussing his career, his life, and his nearly thirty-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. Documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim lets Fox do the talking (with some interactions among his family) but utilizes both extensive and well-placed clips from Fox’s work and some “dramatized recreations” to show how Fox’s slow path to “meteoric success” resulted in a whirlwind of activity that even the onset of Parkinson’s couldn’t slow. Still spends some time on the early, lean years in Hollywood, but we also see how some favorable stars aligned above Fox, such as his reticent father who stakes Fox to his early foray into Hollywood, and Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg, who overcame his own reluctance to hire Fox and insisted he be given the role (for some reason NBC studio head Brandon Tarkitoff did not want Fox to have the role—citing his observation that Fox would never be on a lunch box—a belief that would soon be amusingly refuted).