Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Writers: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and Madison Harrison
Stars: Hilary Swank, Olivia Cooke, Jack Reynor
Synopsis: After the murder of her estranged son, a journalist forms an unlikely alliance with his pregnant girlfriend to track down those responsible. Together, they confront a world of drugs and corruption in the underbelly of a small city.
The Good Mother is a throwback to 90’s thrillers where the villain is a clear and present danger, just like the Harrison Ford Tom Clancy movie title implies – you can’t mistake it. The script follows the old thriller trope, where the titular character is oblivious to the fact, but the bad guy says something innocuous that buries them later. However, the script by director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and Madison Harrison offers not one but two classic crime thriller cliches like a first-act scene where one character admires an easily dismissible tangible item and becomes a key plot point.
Now, all of that is fine as long as the execution is done well and the journey is entertaining enough because the writing offers something engaging or even fresh. The ending also needs to have a satisfying payoff in many ways. While I admire the finale’s choice, the underwhelming road to get there is a monotonous ride that, at the very least, has a merciful 90-minute running time.
Hilary Swank plays Marissa Bennings, aka The Good Mother, a journalist who is estranged from her son, who developed a fentanyl addiction after a baseball injury in high school. She is a widow with one son left, Tobey (Jack Reynor), a beat cop trying to start a family with his wife (Dilone). However, their world is turned upside down when Marissa’s youngest is murdered.
Bennings blames the deceased’s girlfriend, Paige (Olivia Cooke), for getting him hooked on the stuff in the first place. When Paige comes to the funeral, Marissa strikes her down with one hard slap, but as she does, Paige blurts out she’s pregnant. In true thriller fashion, they form a team to find the killer responsible for their loved ones’ deaths, which leads them down a path Marissa may not want to go.
A good portion of Joris-Peyrafitte’s script is tracking down a friend named “Ducky” (Hopper Penn), who’s nothing more than a storytelling stepping stool to get The Good Mother from a clear and obvious plot twist. At that point, the film tries to blend genres of crime thriller and family drama about second chances with themes of opioid addictions and the power of the written word.
Yet, the experience is disjointed and lacks focus and direction. The blend of genres and themes could be more more consistent. This is a trap filmmakers often find themselves in, trying to place certain biases and trying to force a fit that hardly works…
For example, when Marissa’s boss (Da 5 Bloods’s Norm Lewis) primary concern is not her son’s death, she takes time off to write more. This scene is unnatural and unnecessary and is made to validate the film’s title by the end of the third act. The film’s most powerful scene involving a mother and the story of how she lost her daughter is another storytelling tool to get Swank’s Marissa back to the investigation portion of the movie.
And that’s where The Good Mother makes a crucial mistake. The script is a drama, and the filmmakers try to force the script into something it is not. The movie would have been better served if it showed Swank’s grief, finding purpose with a grandchild, and finding a careful way to lead to the reveal seamlessly. Instead, the result is a thriller that needs more balance in its tone, and creative story arcs.