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'Mother!' comes close to being brilliant, until the ending

They're a couple you know--universally loved superstar Jennifer Lawrence and filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, who's 22 years older.

They connected while making the supremely wild and woolly demi-thriller "Mother!" which goes nuts in American movie theaters this weekend.

Anyone who doubted their coupleness for a second is smacked in the face with it in the film's first hour and 15 minutes when Aronofsky's camera seems to hover 6 inches from Lawrence's famous face, making sure that its radiance registers hugely at every second. So adoring are his closeups all through the beginning of "Mother!" that you begin to wonder if he regretted not being able to surgically graft the camera to her clavicles.

Can't do that, though. That's no way to treat an Oscar-winning superstar -- not even by a brilliant director in love. In return for his romantic devotion to his star, she gives him her best performance on film as a vulnerable young woman overwhelmed by confusion, fear and, finally, horror.

Some people hate it when directors fall in love with their actresses. Sourpusses and anti-romantics that they are, they scoff at all the deranging worship. I'm fine with it. I have no problem watching them do it even when the director gives evidence of ultimately blowing it, which Aronofsky does in the final meaning-afflicted 20 minutes of "Mother!"

That's when one of the looniest and most exhilaratingly crazy thrillers of all time is suddenly transformed from a classic into a fable about creativity, fame and megalomania.

Aronofsky's history is, unfortunately, to be a guy who was suspected of true genius far too early in life and has spent his creative life ever since trying to prove it.

When he hits, his films are terrific -- "Black Swan," "The Wrestler," "Requiem for a Dream." When he blows it, he blows it to kingdom come -- "The Fountain."

The film that launched the former Harvard boy into cinematic Valhalla was "Pi," one of the most exciting and brilliant low-budget debuts I've seen in the past 30 years. It's a film whose brazen intelligence and virtuoso dexterity blew a lot of minds besides mine.

So everything he does now is in danger of being contaminated with "Quiet! Genius at Work" signs right from the start. You'll have no trouble understanding that he was so ambitious here that he's now going around telling people he was inspired by Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel" and Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby."

In the case of the former, that's what makes this movie so promisingly nutty. In the case of the latter, that's what ultimately trashes it.

Lawrence, unnamed in the film, is the young wife of an older writer who is known only as The Poet. He is suffering terribly from writer's block. Not only that, he's played by Javier Bardem so you know some big scenes are on the way before it's over. She does everything she can to help him by fixing up his rambling, old scary and secluded house from its dilapidated wreckage.

She seems to be in the early stages of pregnancy; she has sudden stabbing stomach pains. She doesn't tell him because he's off most of the time taking long miserable walks.

The doorbell rings. It's Ed Harris, smoking, coughing and telling them he's a doctor who met The Poet at the hospital. He needs a place to stay, he says. It turns out he's an admirer of The Poet. They get on like a house afire.

Then the doorbell again. It's the doctor's wife, Michelle Pfeiffer, glowering and acting intrusive and witchy. Why doesn't Lawrence have any kids? she asks rudely.

When the doctor's own grown sons show up, the true glory of this movie explodes. It's a horror nightmare that some of us will recognize in our deepest parts and some won't: the terror of being beset by too many happy houseguests.

After that, the film goes completely, nightmarishly nuts -- which is marvelous while it lasts until it guiltily turns into a deliberate fable so pregnant with MEANING that it delivers right in your face. Be forewarned.

The finale is so obvious that it's maliciously funny. It's Aronofsky winking at his ultra-black Bunuelish joke.

Make it simple--until "Mother!" insists on making sense, it had the makings of a crazy classic. What's left now is a wild and loony film-set love story whose denouement remains to be seen.



3 stars (out of four)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Domhnall Gleeson in Darren Aronofsky's wild and crazy thriller about a secluded writer with writer's block, his young wife and too many houseguests. 121 minutes. Rated R for violence, sex, language and very disturbing content.


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