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Mom (2017)

CRUMBLIES… 3 crumblies

Vibrant Vinay took me aside and said, no matter the proximity to her exit from the planet, we owed Sridevi‘s legacy a bit of respect. And he’d found the perfect film. He didn’t know what it was about, had caught half a trailer about a middle-aged mother (Sridevi) dealing with a tiresome and snarky late-teen step-daughter…so, perhaps a few lessons here about tangential parenting as a flavour of middle-age. Old Jack has never been in that situation, young Steve and Jacketta were never a you’re-not-my-Dad challenge, so…deep breath… Mom.

Not what we were expecting. The film begins with grouchy domesticity, Dad is busy, younger child is puckish, older daughter is hard work (Sajal Ali gives good grump as Arya) and deliberately not getting on with Sridevi as teacher and exasperated step-parent Devki. And then Arya goes out for the night, pisses off some bastards in clunky-flirt-with-rage scenario and, drugged, she is dragged into their car.

Okay. This is horrible. A bright, colourful film runs still as we track the car from the sky, watching it crawling through the streets. It hesitates as the rapists swap sides of the car…and drives on. It stops by a ditch and, destroyed, the woman is thrown out. For vile measure, one of the men kicks her unconscious form into the ditch.

I hate this kind of thing. It’s the moment when the inciting incident of a film punches you in the face. There’s a weakness in Mom that ripples out from this moment. The girl is objectified, brutalised and the long wait for agency’s return…goes on… Okay, we’re on her side, but rape-revenge is a brutal thing to make into a story. And Mom is about Mom.

Okay. On to Sridevi. Old Jack here loves how she works, but the reactions asked of her as Arya is discovered, hospitalised and the news hits the family is somewhere between fierce (intrusive) reality and way over the top. The camera makes you aware how orchestrated the whole thing is, and Vinay and I sat, staring, feet paused in anti-DVT twirls. Then it settles down into an uncomfortable, but perfectly watchable, focus on Sridevi dealing with continued rejections from the victimised Arya. She hovers, hoping for a connection, but none comes.

The bad guys are found, dragged through court, and get off in a moment of telling cruelty. Which, dreadfully, seems familiar from the headlines, and certainly doesn’t help things in the family home. Kid is still sweet, Dad still dazed, Arya hides in her bedroom with curtains closed against a shitty world, and Sridevi plans…

And plateaus…

She takes her stepdaughter’s revenge in secret. Police have as much success (and, gallingly, interest) in catching her at what she does as they do in landing the actual rapists in jail. There’s drugging and castration, poisoning with apples, paralysis, framing of weaselly shit. This was a gang rape and the gang gets what human rage, not the rule of law, deems fit for them. Except the last, most dangerous one…

In the background, police and private investigator keep Sridevi’s mission relatively challenging. And, by relatively, I mean she slides past the police with ease. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays D.K., the private investigator. He gives good creepy, testing your taste and patience, but is so clearly a good guy that he lends a safe texture to Sridevi’s world…until he doesn’t.

So, bright, punchingly emotional, imbalanced (okay, it is called Mom, but should it have been? Arya’s agency never quite reappears), but exciting, clever, and really, weirdly (given the topic) entertaining.

The lessons of middle-age aren’t so much taught as idealised and shouted. Tense step-relationships may well be repaired through drastic, supportive action, but you’d have to think this through during the credits. It won’t cross your mind during the film.

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