‘The Good Mother’: Hilary Swank broods her way through a muddled mystery

Oscar winner delivers as usual, but she’s stuck in a plot that goes right off the tracks.

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The girlfriend of a slain drug addict (Olivia Cooke, left) teams up with his mom (Hilary Swank) to make sense of his death in “The Good Mother.”

The girlfriend of a slain drug addict (Olivia Cooke, left) teams up with his mom (Hilary Swank) to make sense of his death in “The Good Mother.”

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Not to be confused with the 1998 Diane Keaton film “The Good Mother” or the 2013 TV movie “The Good Mother” starring Helen Slater or for that matter the 2017 Darren Aronofsky film with Jennifer Lawrence titled “Mother” or the 2023 thriller “Mother” headlined by Jennifer Lopez, “The Good Mother” 2023 is a disappointing and murky mess of a film that feels like an uncompleted project and leaves the viewer frustrated, despite the gritty visuals and a game lead performance by two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.

The clichés come in hot and fast throughout the course of this bleak tale, with director and co-writer Miles Joris-Peyrafitte frequently favoring style over substance. (We get not one but TWO show-offy shots of coffins being lowered into graves, seen from the point of view of … the dirt.) In Swank’s first role since playing an investigative reporter on the solid but recently canceled TV series “Alaska Daily,” she’s once again playing a print journalist, this time for the Albany Times-Union.

We know from the get-go that Swank’s Marissa Bennings is a world-weary sort who has been through the wringer, given the messy state of her home and the fact she wakes up next to a bottle and does some serious mouthwash-swigging before heading into the newsroom, where the obligatory Crusty Editor Who Resents the Changing Times (Norm Lewis) drops pearls of wisdom such as, “Listen … what you’re proposing, however clickable, doesn’t really feel like news, and that remains our first obligation.” YEAH! But also, what’s the clickable thingy again?

‘The Good Mother’

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Vertical presents a film directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and written by Joris-Peyrafitte and Madison Harrison. Running time: 89 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Thursday in theaters.

The script is so muddled it takes a while and some effort to ascertain the key relationships in the film, but we learn Marissa is a widow with two grown sons: the quietly intense but seemingly goodhearted Toby (Jack Reynor), who is an Albany cop, and the deeply troubled Mikey (Madison Harrison), who apparently has battled drug addiction for years and is estranged from both his mother and his brother when he is gunned down by an unknown assailant.

Jack Reynor plays Marissa’s quietly intense son, a cop, in “The Good Mother.”

Jack Reynor plays Marissa’s quietly intense son, a cop.

Vertical

At his burial, Marissa approaches Mikey’s girlfriend Paige (Olivia Cooke), who says, “Mrs. Bennings, I’m pregnant” — and that’s as far as she gets before Marissa slaps Paige hard across the face, knocking her to the ground. Cut to a local tavern, where Marissa says, “I’m sorry, I wouldn’t have hit you if I’d known.” You really missed the clues on that one, Marissa. I mean, it appears as if Paige is about seven months along.

“You know I didn’t make [Mikey] a junkie,” says Paige.

“No, I don’t know that,” comes the reply, yet Marissa and Paige become reluctant partners of a sort, with Paige sometimes staying at Marissa’s place while they try to track down Mikey’s friend Ducky (Hopper Penn), who was mixed up in some serious trouble involving a particularly lethal form of fentanyl — trouble that might have led to Mikey’s murder. Marissa’s editor tells her to take some time off, as much time as she needs, and also scolds her by saying, “You barely know what the Internet does,” which seems out of left field and also a major problem for Marissa, given that she’s of an age where the Internet has been around for pretty much her entire career, but there you have it.

This is the kind of movie where you know we’re going to see home video of Mikey when he was a child, while Marissa broods and ruminates and laments, often after having far too many drinks. (She also has a gimmicky habit of taking out an unlit cigarette and pretending to light it up whenever she’s particularly stressed.) “The Good Mother” has an authentic look, particularly when Marissa finds herself in some of the darker spots in town, but the core mystery often takes a back seat to seemingly arbitrary subplots, e.g., Toby and his wife Gina (Dilone) trying to get pregnant, while there seems to be some sort of unexplained tension between Gina and Marissa.

The plot flies right off the tracks when a particular character makes a shocking discovery — and then proceeds to behave in a manner so idiotic, she makes the victims in slasher films seem like improv geniuses. It’s one of the most implausible and irritating sequences in any movie this year, and it’s a major stumble from which “The Good Mother” never recovers. Swank is outstanding and Olivia Cooke and Jack Reynor turn in fine performances, but it’s an impossible task for them to overcome the half-baked plot.

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