HUSH, the latest in the tradition of the mad mother movies, feels
like a hundred other films you've seen before. Only the delightful
acting by Gwyneth Paltrow, as the daughter-in-law, breathes any life
into it. Jessica Lange, as mother-in-law Martha Baring, plays the same
role of the fidgety woman that she's played so often. The twist is
that this time her restlessness is the hint that her sweetness isn't
Opening with the hazy close-up of a child's toy merry-go-round as
it plays "Hush little baby, don't you cry," the movie immediately
telegraphs where it is going. With images of the creepy old Bette
Davis movie HUSH... HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE firmly planted in their
minds, the audience meets young lovers Helen (Paltrow) and Jackson
Baring, played as unbelievably naive by an unemotional Johnathon
Schaech. Helen has all of the intelligence that Jackson lacks, and
Paltrow acts rings around Schaech.
Helen is the first woman Jackson has ever brought home to visit
his mother -- one in a long series of clues that makes the film so
obvious that every "twist" becomes completely predictable. When Helen
sees the Mount Vernon-sized mansion and massive grounds of the family
estate, Jackson attempts to argue its commonness. "It's a farm," he
tells her nonchalantly. "There's a mortgage. It's no big deal."
His constantly smiling and utterly agreeable mother welcomes them
with open arms. Even when she walks in on them starting to have sexual
intercourse in the hall -- not something most young adults would do in
such a situation -- she smiles and walks away, trying not to disturb
As is patently obvious, all is not right at the family farm. Soon
Helen becomes mysteriously pregnant, so she and Jackson decide to
marry. (The pregnancy may be a mystery to Jackson and Helen, but not
to the audience.) After they decide to marry, events then encourage
them to move in with Martha. Martha quickly poisons their relationship
with Helen seeing what is happening but Jackson remaining as blind as
the proverbial bat to every obvious, sinister turn of events.
The script by Michael Cristofer and the director, Jonathan Darby,
serves up many incredulities. One of the show's harder to believe
claims is that Martha keeps her huge house immaculate without the aid
of servants. That she would have trouble keeping help is plausible,
but her doing all of the housework isn't. Helen falls asleep without
make-up after having her baby but wakes up with fresh lipstick and
makeup. Finally watch how Helen's very prominent pregnancy waxes and
wanes like the moon, with one scene in particular showing her losing a
half dozen inches off her waist and regaining them in the next.
The show does have its moments. The romance between the two young
lovers, she being witty and intelligent, and he being a handsome
airhead, works beautifully. A nice little romantic comedy could have
easily been fashioned from the show's promising beginning.
The show's last act is so ludicrous that members in my audience
were laughing out loud at it and engaging in conversation about how
overdrawn and ridiculous it was. Even with all of story's problems,
the final confrontation scene, in which the people being attacked
attack back, is great fun.
HUSH runs 1:35. It is rated PG-13 for some violence, sensuality
and brief strong language and would be fine for teenagers.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes