The average movie goer probably hasn’t heard of the film Mothering Sunday. I hadn’t heard of it either until the studio offered to send me a screener in exchange for reviewing the film. But I watched the trailer and it seemed like it might be kinda romantic and cute. Not “cute” but like…British movie cute, you know? Plus Olivia Colman, Collin Firth, and Prince Charles from The Crown are all in it so I figured why not? What do I have to lose?
The answer is: about an hour and 40 minutes of my time.
Is this the worst movie I’ve ever seen? No. It’s not even the worst movie I’ve seen this month <stares directly at Jared Leto>. But Mothering Sunday is, to me, the perfect example of the most frustrating kind of movie. Confusing when trying to be mysterious; unintentionally hilarious when trying to be shocking; and pointless when trying to be ambiguous.
Mothering Sunday stars up-and-coming Australian actress Odessa Young (The Stand, Assassination Nation) as Jane Fairchild. Jane is an orphan girl who works as a maid for a wealthy couple (Collin Firth and Olivia Colman, more on them in a second) whose sons have both died in World War 1.
On the titular day of Mothering Sunday – when servants are given the day off to go be with their mothers – Jane (remember she’s an orphan, so the whole mother thing is not really her scene) goes to bump uglies with the rich neighbor boy.
Problem is, rich neighbor boy (Paul, apparently) is engaged to another woman. A woman who was supposed to marry Paul’s brother before Paul’s brother died in World War 1.
That’s the basic outline of the plot for Mothering Sunday, and while it sounds like that’d be a perfectly fine place to start for a British romantic drama, it’s not where they start at all. It takes about 45 minutes into the movie before you get to really understand any of that. Why? Because the movie is told through a confounding series of nonlinear flashbacks from an old woman Jane’s perspective as she’s writing a book. But there’s also a middle Jane talking to some other man (Donald, apparently) about how much she loves writing books. And so we have to have nonlinear flashbacks of middle Jane and Donald meeting each other. But middle Jane refuses to tell Donald the story she’s writing about Paul and the affair and all the boys who died in World War 1.
It’s even more confusing than it sounds because the way the movie is edited it’s impossible to tell what year/timeline you’re in unless you see Jane. But the problem there is Jane starts to look a lot like every other white woman you see on the screen (unless she’s naked and wandering around Paul’s house, which happens for like 30% of the runtime because it keeps being flashed back to).
By the time the story realizes it’s completely lost you, shit just happens. It’s supposed to be shocking and sad and everything like that, but it ends up just being so random that it feels funny. And it becomes goddam hilarious when shit happens AGAIN later in the movie. I could not stop laughing and the movie definitely did not want me to.
Don’t Really Care
Mothering Sunday and its…unique…narrative structure will definitely keep you from knowing what’s about to come next. But if you’re like me, you won’t really find yourself caring enough to try and guess. None of the main characters are interesting enough to care about what happens to them, and the side characters aren’t in the movie enough for you to even remember their sad little backstories.
Olivia Colman and Collin Firth have maybe 10 minutes of screen time between the 2 of them. If you watched the trailer linked above, you heard most of Colman’s lines. A huge wasted opportunity for a film that could’ve used the gravitas of legends like Colman and Firth to make this story more interesting.
As far as the main, asynchronous love triangle at the center of the film is concerned, neither of the male leads is particularly charming or endearing in any way. In a better, more interesting movie you might find yourself arguing for #TeamPaul or #TeamDonald. But here neither of them really matters in the grand scheme of things. They’re footnotes on Jane’s journey to…something. I’m not quite sure what. There’s something to do with a horse? Probably something about grief and love and dying in World War 1.
But I don’t know, I don’t really care and neither will you.
Mothering Sunday Final Grade:
Plainly, there’s not much in Mothering Sunday to make it worth watching for most people. Maybe if you’re in love with the novel it’s based on, or you’re attempting to buy low on Odessa Young stock before anyone else. Other than that, you’re better off doing just about anything else with your time.
Recommendation: Skip it.
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