Take a bit of Kafka, throw in some Buñuelian realism, add a dose of John Cheever (circa The Swimmer) and then hand the recipe over to a first-time feature-making Swedish director with fond memories of a childhood spent in IKEA furniture stores, then put together an A-List cast, and you essentially have Mother, Couch.
A World Premiere this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival, this truly surreal, metaphysical mind trip will not be to everyone’s taste, but the cast, including a couple of Oscar winners, will make it go down easier even if some of it more closely resembles a thespian exercise at the Actor’s Studio, rather than a major motion picture. It certainly is watchable, and writer/director Niclas Larsson makes the most of his adaptation of Jerker Virdborg’s book, Mamma I Sofa which centers on a seemingly normal outing to a furniture store but turns into a nightmarish nervous breakdown for 48-year-old David (Ewan McGregor), son of his mother (Ellen Burstyn) who is only identified that way, and who has decided to plop herself on a green couch on sale in a department of the upper floor and will not get up, despite his most valiant efforts to get her to leave. Along the way his siblings, even his own kids, join in including older brother Gruffudd (Rhys Ifans) and unimpressed sister Linda (Lara Flynn Boyle). It all turns into a very dysfunctional family affair with secrets, lies, and revelations galore as the mother admits she didn’t want to have any of these kids, had five abortions to get rid of them and these were the ones, especially David, who hung on to her uterus for dear about-to-be-a-life. Mother is a no-nonsense, heading to senility(???) woman who seems full of regrets, and who, knocking on 90, wears a blonde flip wig that looks like something a teeny bopper might have worn in Beach Blanket Bingo.
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Navigating this family crisis is the sensible store manager Bella (a terrific Taylor Russell) who is a lot more understanding than she should be, even welcoming them to stay the night in the bedroom section, and even taking a shower in front of David who hands her a towel before it is his turn (separately of course) to jump in the shower. In bathrobes later, the pair have a heart to heart on life’s meaning during a candlelit dinner. When David awakes the next morning he runs into the store’s owner Marco (F. Murray Abraham) , and later his twin brother Marcus (F. Murray Abraham), the latter using the threat of a buzzsaw to cancel the discount deal on a bed his brother made with David.
Okay so it all gets really bizarre from this point on, and without offering spoilers, I will only say a key scene involves a storm at sea raging and engulfing the store as David, understandably, wrestles directly with lifelong mommy issues.
The acting, as you might expect, is the main attraction here and all of them jump in and go for it like this is Shakespeare. McGregor is always on the money even in moments that seem emotionally over the top. Ifans, his character more laid back and seemingly interested in shallow delights, is his usual pro self, and Boyle radiates lifelong frustrations with her siblings and Mother. Russell is a nice breath of fresh air relating to characters that should be institutionalized. Abraham plays twins on a level somewhere between Jeremy Irons and Hayley Mills. Even though I paid nothing to see it at TIFF, Burstyn’s performance is worth the price of admission. This 90-year-old acting treasure gets a very strange role to sink her teeth into and goes for the jugular. Sensational.
Larsson is clearly a filmmaker, based on his past Short Film work and now this, who shuns reality but oddly sites as inspiration for the film, Sydney Pollock’s 1969 They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, a downbeat depression era-set movie about broke souls involved in a marathon dancing contest in order to make a dime. Certainly would be a head-scratching double feature in order to correctly spot the connection. Brother, can you spare a couch?
Producers are Ella Bishop, Pau Suris, Alex Black, Sara Murphy. It is looking for distribution.
Title: Mother, Couch
Festival: Toronto Film Festival
Sales Agent: UTA
Director-screenwriter: Niclas Larsson
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ellen Burstyn, Rhys Ifans, Lara Flynn Boyle, Taylor Russell, F. Murray Abraham, Lake Bell
Running Time: 1 Hour and 36 minutes
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