Diane Keaton, The Good Mother

Monday, September 26, 2005

Pauline Kael

“…. The family pattern of men mistreating women seems to be laid out for us so we'll understand why Anna is inhibited and frigid, but when Diane Keaton appears, it's clear that we didn't need all that apparatus just to read Anna's character. Keaton reveals Anna's repression in a few abject glances; the apparatus has been set up to prepare us for the plot.

“Keaton goes right to Anna's dissatisfaction with herself. Anna admires women who are passionate--that's what she has always wanted to be. But, despite her vibrancy, she has a school-girl look, and she feels mousy, apprehensive, a hopeless case. She feels ridiculous. Anna, who lives in Cambridge, has no real commitment to her work as a piano teacher, and her part-time job (she washes test tubes in a lab) is strictly drudgery. Her only real pride is in being a good mother. Her daughter has been her joy, her art work; her maternal passion has been her only passion.

“Keaton goes through changes here the way Bette Davis did in Now, Voyager. Anna comes into her own when she abandons herself to the Irishman. She's reborn as part of a family--man, woman, child--in which all three love each other. She looks sensational, and she's recklessly happy; carnality is everything she hope for, and more. Then, when the turnaround comes and she has to go to court, she's stunned, cowed . . . . And in the next phase she's a hysterical wreck until she dims her own light . . . . She learns to live with her loss. [reconsider what I've left out in this paragraph]

“That's where the The Good Mother loses a sizable chunk of the audience. As moviegoers, we're conditioned to want Anna to shred the thinking behind the court proceedings . . . . Anna just goes limp on us; she rolls with the punches. And though this is what her character has been rigged to do from the start, it's a disturbing letdown for the audience--especially, perhaps, for feminist, who may see it as a betrayal . . . .

“…. What The Good Mother does have is the central performances. Liam Neeson takes a new cliché … and plays it with such rhythmic ease that you hardly question it . . . . And Asia Vieira . . . embodies the freedom that Anna wants her [daughter] to have; her crooked grin matches up with Keaton's bright smile. Nimoy can be proud of his work with these three performers (though his judgment went to hell in the scenes involving Ralph Bellamy and Teresa Wright).

"Diane Keaton is a delight in the "fulfilled" section. Her daring is in her spontaneity. She keeps her performance almost alarmingly fresh--the bloom is on it. That's what makes her so likable. And it's tied in with her gift for making even closed-in characters transparent to our eyes. We watch as Anna withdraws further and further, and becomes nothing but a (bland, guilt-ridden) good mother--she won't imperil what remains of her relationship with her child, no matter what the cost. And, as Keaton plays her, you can't say Anna is wrong. She's true to her feelings; she loves her daughter more than anything else. But you resent the movie (and, to some degree, the novel) for framing the issues this way--for making it appear that women are now and have been forever characters in tearjerkers . . . .

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, Nov. 28, 1988
Movie Love, pp 33-37