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'Mother, Couch' Review

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July 3, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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“It was all very simple, they were looking for a dresser. Blood wouldn’t spill till later.” These words scrawl across an almost Toy Story-esque cloudy background before the camera pans down to your typical furniture store. It’s a foreboding string of words, one that prompts several questions. What’s the significance of the dresser? Why is blood going to be spilled at a furniture store? Who’s blood is it going to be? Writer/director Niclas Larsson wants you to hang on to these questions for dear life throughout his oddball feature debut, one that packs quite a sizable cast consisting of Ewan McGregor, Rhys Ifans, Taylor Russell, Lara Flynn Boyle, F. Murray Abraham, and Ellen Burstyn. Instead of doing as Larsson says, we’re often left scratching our heads and asking “What’s going on?” and “Who cares?”

But it is not all lies that Larsson peddles, as there is truth in his first introductory sentence. Things did start very simply, with David (McGregor) and Gruffudd (Ifans) helping their mother (Burstyn) shop for a specific dresser in a now-closing furniture store. David is on the clock as he’s supposed to be helping set up his daughter’s birthday party. And yet this dresser can’t be found, and neither can his mother in this maze of a store. He wants to cut his losses and just leave, but she says she’s not getting up from the couch she’s plopping herself down on. After a few seconds of silence, David starts to realize that she’s deadly serious. Minutes of coaxing turn into hours, in which each passing moment becomes increasingly unhinged.

While hidden from the internet and any of the press materials, an exclamation point is added to the title when it flashes on the screen after the opening credits. In addition to being part of the confusion about the punctuation surrounding the title (I’ve seen a clean split between Mother Couch and Mother, Couch), that extra element at the end creates an undeniable link to Darren Aronofky’s Mother!. Both films hid their true meanings behind metaphors and stand-ins, only for all to be revealed through an extended sequence of batshit insanity.

Aronofsky’s work may have been extremely on-the-nose and pointed towards an easy target, but it did always contain a certain level of excitement on both a literal and figurative level. No such thrills exist in Larsson’s film, with endless visual teasing and dialogue exchanges that dance around the central mystery quickly overstaying their welcome. Everyone other than David seems to have a grasp on what’s truly going on, almost as if this is all some elaborate social experiment. The physical space certainly makes it feel that way; the confoundingly laid-out hallways and storage rooms create a maze for these helpless mice to traverse through.

If the cast were just as unsure about the material as we are, they hide it well behind their solid performances. McGregor gets to let loose like he has over the past few years on television (Fargo, Halston), keeping hold of his Scottish accent and running around like a chicken with its head cut off as Christopher Bear’s Punch-Drunk Love-styled score ratchets up the tension. Taylor Russell’s character seems to only speak in double entendre, and F. Murray Abraham is diabolical plays the twin store owners. All of it’s interesting on paper, with only a very small amount of it translating to the screen. Larsson may have had a lot of confidence in what he was doing, but I’m pretty sure he’s the only one who will get anything out of this.

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Larsson may have had a lot of confidence in what he was doing, but I’m pretty sure he’s the only one who will get anything out of this.
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