Opened: Jan. 10, 1997 | Rated: PG-13
Albert Brooks is like an optimistic Woody Allen. He makes a lot of his own movies in which he plays the same conflicted, unsure, pathetically single guy with self-esteem problems.
The act can work given a good set of circumstances, like in "Defending Your Life," when he played a conflicted and unsure recently dead guy whose life was before a review board at a way station to heaven.
But every couple of years, like Allen, Brooks drops this character into another set of circumstances, and, well, you can't have a winner every time.
Witness "Mother," in which the Brooks guy, a 40-year-old writer getting divorced for the second time, figures all his female troubles stem from his relationship with Mom, so he moves back home to hash it out.
Back in his old room, with all his old stuff (insert lengthy unpacking sequence set to '70s revival tunes here), he sets about trying to figure out went wrong with Mother.
Debbie Reynolds, absent from film for more than two decades, makes a winning comeback as Mom. She creates an instantly recognizable mother-figure -- if you don't see some of your own mother in her, you'll certainly see your grandmother.
But after the set-up, there isn't a single surprise in "Mother," and Reynolds is given maybe four jokes to play and replay for the length of the film.
There's Mother vs. technology (her younger son, played by Rob Morrow, buys her a picture phone) and Mother's idiosyncrasies (making seven salads on Monday and freezing them for the rest of the week). There's Mother on sex (she's dating, much to the surprise of Brooks), there's Mother on shopping ("Oh, honey. Don't buy the brand name! It's all the same stuff."). That's about it.
Brooks directs his film like he's talking to his mother -- s-l-o-w so she can understand -- and after a while the movie becomes nothing more than a series of conversations that sound like this:
Brooks: "Mother, I've realized...(something, something)."
Reynolds: "Oh, honey...(yackety yack)."
And the thing is, they don't really work anything out. As the film draws to a close, Brooks has a minor revelation that is met with a resounding, definitive response from the audience: "That's it? I sat through 90 minutes of recycled Brooks material for this?"