Thursday, February 9, 2017

You’ll Like My Mother (1972)

          In this outlandish but slick thriller, Patty Duke plays a young woman carrying the child of a man who recently died. She travels to rural Minnesota in the middle of a brutal winter to meet her late husband’s mother, who turns out to be a withholding monster living in a house full of horrors. Competently directed by the versatile Lamont Johnson and bolstered by skillful performances, You’ll Like My Mother is a cut above the usual shocker, in the sense that great care is taken with characterization and mood. Nonetheless, some of the genre’s usual problems manifest, notably the peculiar impression that the villain was sitting around waiting for an opportunity to torment someone. After all, since the mother of the title seems determined to preserve her weird circumstances, why not simply make her unwanted visitor go away? It’s the reverse of the old “why don’t they leave?” problem.
          Anyway, a very pregnant Francesca (Duke) treks to the home of Mrs. Kingsolving (Rosemary Murphy), expecting to find the warm embrace of a woman pleased by the arrival of a daughter-in-law and by the news of an impending grandchild. No such luck. Demeaning, harsh, and nearly deaf. Mrs. Kingsolving announces that she doesn’t believe Francesca was ever with her son, and that she has no intention of providing emotional or financial support. Concurrently, Mrs. Kingsolving introduces Francesca to Kathleen (Sian Barbara Allen), whose existence was previously unknown to Francesca—she’s the mentally challenged sister of Francesca’s late husband. Contrivances ensue. Severe weather prevents Francesca from leaving the house on foot, and car trouble keeps Mrs. Kingsolving from driving Francesca to a nearby bus station. Then Mrs. Kingsolving drugs Francesca to keep her hostage, for reasons that are never especially clear, and Francesca pokes around the house to discover the existence of another sibling, Kenny (Richard Thomas). Thought by authorities to be missing, he’s a psycho killer whom Mrs. Kinsolving hides inside her house. As you might imagine, this spells trouble for Francesca and her soon-to-be-born child.
          Even though the plot of You’ll Like My Mother doesn’t work—too many convenient twists, too many slow passages—the movie has a strong mood. The juxtaposition of unforgiving weather inside and intolerable madness inside creates the desired sense of claustrophobia, and Francesca’s vulnerable condition triggers immediate audience sympathy. Duke doesn’t excel, precisely, but she imbues her performance with both compassion and toughness, so she sells the larky aspects of the storyline about as well as anyone could. The same is true of Murphy, who drips acid while wearing a condescending smile. Does it all go way over the top during the climax? Of course. But after too many quiet stretches, the comic-book violence of the final scenes gives the movie a much-needed shot of adrenaline.

You’ll Like My Mother: FUNKY

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