The lengths a family goes to protect their own can lead down dark paths. Our willingness to even ignore the bad deeds of family can doom us to make our own mistakes. Throughout The Good Mother, director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte wants to highlight the choices in morally grey areas. The result is rather predictable storytelling, but does strike a nerve thanks to its lead performance.
Journalist Marissa Bennings (Hilary Swank) is interrupted at work by her cop son Toby (Jack Reynor). Her other son, who used and dealt drugs, has been killed. As she investigates her son’s death, Bennings becomes close with her son’s partner Paige (Olivia Cook). Not only does Paige struggle with addiction, but she’s pregnant with Bennings’ grandchild. As the family continues to peel back the layers of sons death, they begin to uncover unhappy secrets.
The screenplay is where many of The Good Mother’s problems start. There have been far too many movies with the same premise in the past two decades. Worse, the writing tips off some of the twists. The narrative is not good enough for The Good Mother to skate by on concept alone. Unfortunately, Joris-Peyrafitte does not find enough visual flair for the movie to stand out on that side either.
Instead, the combination of performances from Swank, Cook, Reynor, and Dilone carry the piece. Swank brings her intensity to the search. She makes for an excellent investigative reporter, even if she leans too hard into her cold demeanor. Reynor gets to show off his likable, charismatic side of personality. Yet there’s a rage about his position in life that shines through. Reynor can play the subtle shades of his characters wonderfully and does so here. Dilone steals many of her scenes, adding emotional pathos to her journey of distrust and the frustrations of an outsider.
The Cook performance either works or feels disastrous. This may swing your performance of The Good Mother as a whole. For me, I did not find fault with her performance, even as the character makes questionable choices. It will not be remembered as one of her great turns, but playing against type allows us to see more range than we have in a while.
At the same time, Cook’s performance worked for me as someone who grew up around addiction. While it can lead to some frustrating decisions from a person you love, the idea that we turn off our feelings is cold. Instead, we want to believe the best on people. As addiction still ravages large swaths of America, it’s hard to argue about The Good Mother’s focus.
With enough help from the cast, The Good Mother gets over the hump. In many ways, it’s the kind of throwback mystery we do not get enough of in theaters. While is struggles to differentiate itself at times, and characters show dark sides of corruption, the message rings true. We will let those we love get away with the worst deeds, even when those deeds can destroy our world.