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Jennifer Lopez Doesn't Break the Netflix Film Curse in 'The Mother'

By Petr Navovy | Film | May 16, 2023 |

By Petr Navovy | Film | May 16, 2023 |


I’ll say one thing about The Mother: Jennifer Lopez.

Oh, we need more?

That’s unfortunate, because this new Netflix thriller about a lethal covert operative coming out of hiding in order to protect the teenage daughter she gave up at birth for her own good really does not have all that much else going for it.

I’m one of those people who has a habit of forgetting that Jennifer Lopez is a bonafide movie star. And not just a movie star, but an accomplished, impressive actor, who can pull off a variety of tones and genres. I think that’s partly due to the simple fact that apart from Out Of Sight—which remains a firm favorite of mine, and in which she is famously excellent—I’ve just not seen all that many of her films.

The Mother comes to us from director Niki Caro, whose 2002 debut Whale Rider was one of those breakouts that are universally beloved and seem to speak of untold potential, but who most recently found herself wrestling for dear life with the unwieldy behemoth that is the Disney Company in delivering into the world the completely unnecessary live-action remake/hegemony extender of Mulan. The less said about that, the better. The Mother, it gives me no pleasure to report, has far more in common with the latter rather than the former.

As audiences, we can’t seem to get enough of retired killers finding themselves forced to come out of retirement to put their very special skills to very deadly use. I’d blame John Wick, but this is a trope that stretches back decades and perhaps centuries. To The Mother’s credit, it doesn’t feel like a cheap studio fabrication, desperate to feast on some of the scrap left by John Wick that so many other post-2014 action films so clearly do. Movies like Kate, Gunpowder Milkshake, and Extraction, which you simply can’t imagine existing had that first (and by some distance best) Wick entry not burst so spectacularly through the doors almost a decade ago.

The flip side of that, however, is that The Mother not only doesn’t feel like a John Wick rip off-it doesn’t feel like much of anything. It opens relatively strongly, with a tense action sequence doubling as a quick character introduction and setup. The editing is tight, with a fine rhythm and a sense of space and weight. Stakes are established, and thanks to Lopez’s immediately believable performance, I was drawn in and invested. The writing is clichéd, sure, but there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s fun and exciting enough. For a little while, I thought the Netflix film curse had been broken.

It wasn’t long before things took a slow and unfortunate tumble off a steep cliff, however, and after the first ten minutes or so The Mother turns into a drag, and the limitations glimpsed at the start begin revealing themselves as defining features rather than exceptions. The film’s script, by screenwriters Misha Green (Lovecraft County), Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton), Peter Craig (The Town, Top Gun: Maverick), fails to sustain the lean efficacy of its opening, instead meandering through a boring story populated by paper-thin approximations of humanity, its substance bereft of wit or warmth—which, for an action film built around a mother trying to reconnect with her estranged daughter, is a critical fumble. I’d usually spare a moment to discuss the film’s visuals, but there is nothing here worthy of remark, other than to say that we can add The Mother to the huge and ever-increasing pile called ‘Would somebody please tell these modern filmmakers/studios to light their films properly? Or at all. Just, please, some light, somewhere!’

Lopez sustains her performance throughout, her steely-eyed conviction and struggles with her dual roles writ large on her face. Her character is locked in a fierce battle against enemies both internal and external—and that includes the film she is trapped in. If I have to watch another reprehensible flashback to ‘Afghanistan’ in order to establish how much of a badass a character is, or yet another ‘grime-camera-filtered’ foray into a country that’s not America to show us how much scary foreign danger our heroes are willing to march into, I’m going to roll my eyeballs so hard they’ll tumble straight out of their sockets. And that’s not even mentioning the criminal misuse of Gael García Bernal (hope the paycheck was worth it at least, mate), and the entirely unearned use of Massive Attack’s ‘Angel’. Urgh.

The Mother is out now on Netflix.