‘Mother, Couch’ Review: The Family That Stays Together

In a furniture store devoid of customers, an elderly matriarch, referred to only as “Mother” and played by Ellen Burstyn, has settled on a couch. That is, she’s really settled on a couch. She’s sitting on it and refusing to budge. She promises that if anyone tries to move or carry her off the couch, she will struggle to the extent that, “I will fall and hit my head so hard it will burst.”

No one in “Mother, Couch” is inordinately pragmatic, or else this movie, written and directed by Niclas Larsson, adapted from a novel by Jerker Virdborg, would be much shorter. Granted, Burstyn’s character, first seen in black wraparound sunglasses and sporting a helmet-like flip hairdo, is a formidable figure. And stranding her multi-accented adult children (it’s explained, weakly) in the store with her over a few days is one way to effect yet another cinematic contemplation on Why Families Are Dysfunctional.

Mother’s children are Ewan McGregor’s David, buttoned-down and flying apart; Rhys Ifans’s Gruffudd, medium shambolic by default; and Lara Flynn Boyle’s Linda, snarling and swearing a blue streak.

Apple, meet tree: Mother is stubborn, and frankly mean, albeit more formal in her language. “I never wanted any children, David,” she practically snarls after having given this son a nasty cut on the palm that won’t heal. Hey! Symbolism! Or, one should say, another bit of symbolism.

While the film’s premise may suggest black comedy (and the sometimes fake-jaunty, fake-portentous score by Christopher Bear underscores that idea), Burstyn’s character, which the actor plays with her customary expertise, is so utterly disagreeable that viewing the picture is a mostly anxious experience with not much of a reward at the end, which shifts to magic realist mode for lack of anywhere better to go.

Mother Couch
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. In theaters.

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