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“Mother, Couch” Needs a Better Pattern

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | July 10th, 2024

Mother, Couch (Niclas Larsson, 2023) 2 out of 5 stars

Swedish writer/director Niclas Larsson makes his feature debut with Mother, Couch. It’s an adaptation of author Jerker Virdborg’s 2020 novel Mamma i soffa. Throughout the movie, Larsson demonstrates a strong aesthetic in both his mise-en-scène and the actors’ performances. Unfortunately, much of these skills are in service of a script that is simultaneously incomprehensible and hackneyed.

By the time we figure out what is happening, it’s with a nasty feeling of déjà vu. Really? That’s what it’s all been about? Haven’t we seen this kind of tormented dreamscape of a narrative countless times before? Charlie Kaufman (I’m Thinking of Ending Things) beat you to the punch, and did it better, I’m afraid.

Taylor Russell in MOTHER COUCH ©Film Movement

The story begins with two brothers, Dave (Ewan McGregor, Doctor Sleep) and Griff (Ewan McGregor, Nyad), entering a ramshackle furniture warehouse in search of their mother (Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist: Believer), who has come to nominally seek out a new couch. Their guide through the labyrinthine passageways is Bella (Taylor Russell, Bones and All), daughter of the owner. After a long search, they locate mom.

She doesn’t want to leave, having taken up what appears to be permanent residence on a sofa (hence the film’s title). No amount of pleading from either son will do. Later, when the chain-smoking eldest child, Linda (Lara Flynn Boyle, Death in Texas), arrives, it makes no difference. The only one of the trio that mother’s stubbornness seems to bother is Dave, the youngest.

l-r: Rhys Ifans, Ewan McGregor, and Lara Flynn Boyle in MOTHER COUCH ©Film Movement

Other characters come and go, and occasionally we leave the store. Never does it feel like anything other than a surreal nightmare, the kind where the protagonist (which would be us were it our own dream) cannot escape a world that makes no sense. Words are spoken and behaviors witnessed, none of it generating feelings beyond anxiety, yet we feel little, since there’s no emotional investment in the proceedings.

In the final act, there is a welcome change, but the bizarre plot points keep piling on, refusing to add up to significant meaning. The already impressive cast is joined by the great F. Murray Abraham (Things Heard & Seen), with another solid player, Lake Bell (Cryptozoo), lending support, as well, but the concomitantly opaque and obvious details continue apace. It’s a sad misuse of talent.

Ellen Burstyn in MOTHER COUCH ©Film Movement

All of that said, the visuals of the piece impress, and what turns out to be an underlying meditation on grief (sadly, without surprises) is occasionally moving. McGregor is always a pleasure to watch, and Abraham, Burstyn, and Russell rank equally high. But without a solid screenplay—or rather, one that is not too clever by half—there’s not just not much point to what we see.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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