Lionsgate // 2007 // 71 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // September 8th, 2010
Sometimes you have to look past the surface to see what is really going on underneath. (No, that's not a lesson I learned from the film. It's what I learned from the DVD cover. Just because Mr. Pattinson's face is plastered all over it, doesn't mean he's the main character.)
This British made-for-TV movie is based on a novel by Kate Long published in 2006. A quick jump over to Amazon showed me it has a solid four and half star rating. So I can see why it was turned into a film. Turns out Robert Pattinson appeared in this after his turn in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so why did it take so long to come out on DVD?
Karen Cooper (Catherine Tate, Doctor Who) can't get along with her teenage daughter Charlotte (Holly Grainger, The Scouting Book for Boys); all their discussions turn into shouting matches. Then there's Nan (Anne Reid), Karen's mother, who is fighting a losing battle against senility. Things come to a boil when Karen discovers she was adopted by Nan, and that Charlotte is pregnant. Karen explodes with rage, fearing her past is a lie and her daughter is going to repeat the same mistakes she did. Charlotte tries to cope with being pregnant, but the father absolves himself from all responsibility. This leaves her with new friend Daniel (Robert Pattinson, The Twilight Saga: New Moon) who does his best to lend a hand.
The Bad Mother's Handbook is a pretty serious movie dealing with some serious issues. Don't let the cover fool you into thinking this is a romantic comedy. Its focus is split between Karen's dissolving outlook on life and Charlotte dealing with teenage pregnancy. There are a few humorous moments, revolving around how awkward Daniel is and some of Karen's acerbic rants, but the heart of the movie is drama.
In a bizarre twist, there is a parallel between this movie and the British television series Absolutely Fabulous. It's almost as if we entered a alternate universe where the same characters are used for dramatic effect instead of mining the situations for comedy.
Check it out. Karen is the selfish mom who spends much of her time resenting her daughter and drinking. Sounds like Eddy. Charlotte is a student who gets top marks, and can't stand her mother, just like Saffy. Nan is a bit daffy often saying things that make no sense in one context but deliver a deeper meaning from another point of view. The only thing missing is Patsy!
Okay, so maybe it's a stretch, but Catherine Tate really seems to be channeling Jennifer Saunders on a few occasions. It works well in the context of this story. Karen is so disillusioned and angry she can't see the problems her daughter is facing. On the other hand, Charlotte is so upset with her mother's lack of acceptance that she blows up right back. Neither is willing to talk about why they are feeling and acting this way, and it only makes things more difficult. Both actresses do a great job with the roles, pulling you into the conflict and wishing the two would get a clue...or a therapist.
Anne Reid (Hot Fuzz) does a great job as Nan. The look of shame and frustration on her face when she struggles to remember who she's talking to, or why she reacted in a particular way are heartbreaking. When Karen confronts her about the adoption, we know it's a losing battle. Nan can't remember what happened yesterday much less decades ago, and Karen doesn't have the patience to work with her to get at the truth.
Daniel is an interesting character. He shows up at Charlotte's school as a transfer student, geeky and awkward. As the son of a doctor, he has a lot of medical knowledge, which he will spout out when the occasion warrants. He is obviously drawn to Charlotte, even if she thinks he's a big loser. But he's understanding and wants to help. Pattinson does a really good job of channeling compassion and confusion all at the same time. When he spouts out pregnancy symptoms while looking more and more uncomfortable it was pretty funny. He ends up providing much of the humor in the film.
Since it was made for TV, you can expect a happy ending...and that's what we get. But there are some interesting twists along the way, especially when Karen battles with the decision to seek out her birth mother. All told, I found the characters interesting and the story, while a little standard, worth spending the time with.
Lionsgate provides you with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image that looks good for a television production. The Dolby 5.1 audio mix is clear enough. No extras.
Let's be honest. There is only one reason this movie is coming out on DVD in North America: Robert Pattinson. His face is all over the cover, he gets second billing, and the description of the film makes it sound like the whole movie is about him. This DVD is targeted to his fans. I think they'll be in for a surprise, when they watch the film and see he's only in a supporting role and not looking like his typical sparkly self.
Oh, and there are some serious northern English accents in this movie. I usually have a good ear for these, but it took me a while to get into the flow and I know I missed some lines early on. If accents aren't your bag, I recommend turning on the subtitles.
This is a simple story told well, nothing really remarkable about it, but it makes for a solid drama. At 70 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome, but I can't get behind a real recommendation for it either.
The movie is not guilty, but Lionsgate's marketing team is guilty of misrepresentation.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R