Jennifer Lawrence’s Mother! Was Booed at Venice (But Critics Actually Love It)

But will it find Oscars glory?

mother! Photocall - 74th Venice Film Festival
Elisabetta A. Villa

That director Darren Aronofsky’s mother! was greeted by some boos during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival shouldn’t be a surprise. Venice is among the European film festival audiences that have something of a tradition of booing odd and transgressive films. And even though the film’s marketing campaign was intentionally mysterious, it left little doubt that the film would be odd and transgressive.

It should also be pointed out that boos in the audience were audible battling it out with cheers as well. Now, with the first reviews coming in, it definitely seems that American critics were decidedly more in line with the lot cheering—even if they thought it was just as weird as those who ended up booing.

Without spoiling anything major, but to give a hint at how weird the film is, the main characters don’t even have name. Jennifer Lawrence is credited as “mother” in the credits, while Javier Bardem is “HIM.” Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, meanwhile, are “Man” and “Woman.”

To give you more of an idea, here’s some choice excerpts from the early reviews:

Indiewire says the film “begins as a slow burn and builds toward a furious blaze,” and that while it’s just as much a “baroquely orchestrated big-screen freak-out” as the director’s Black Swan, it’s really much more.

The Playlist writes that it’s “Aronofsky’s most bombastic, ludicrous and fabulous film, spiked with a kind of reckless, go-for-broke, leave-it-all-up-there-on-the-screen abandon, it is simply one of the most films ever.” It also, apparently, not only deserves the exclamation point in its title, but could use a few more.

Variety says it will “leave you in breathless chortling spasms of WTF disbelief,” while The Hollywood Reporter concludes that it’s “a very Rosemary’s Baby-like intimate horror tale that definitely grabs your attention and eventually soars well over the top.”

Some more to the point pull quotes:

“A carnival ride of horrific human behavior,” from Collider.

“A creative surge that’s like the lancing of a boil, releasing a torrent of despair and disgust for the greedy chaos of society today,” from Screen International.

“A sickeningly glorious mess,” from The Daily Beast.

Critics aren’t so much divided along the lines of thinking it’s merely “good” or “bad,” but rather if it’s a masterpiece or merely an ambitious, unique lark that should be lauded if only for the fact that someone dared to make it and actually pulled it off.

One word, however, not coming up too much in the initial critical discussion: “Oscar.” Could the film be just too weird for the Academy Awards? In another era it might be, but the film has a striking pedigree. Aronofsky’s films are no stranger to nomination. Both Lawrence and co-star Javier Bardem have Oscars already on their mantels, while supporting players Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris are beloved screen veterans who have each been nominated multiple times but have never won. Critics are certainly on board with the performances (with Lawrence and Pfeiffer specifically being singled out), and perhaps a big box office windfall and continued critical support could push this odd film to film’s mainstage.

Related: Jennifer Lawrence is Terrified by Michelle Pfeiffer in Mother! Clip: “Why Don’t You Want Kids?”

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