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Featured TV on DVD Review: The Bad Mother's Handbook

August 22nd, 2010

The Bad Mother's Handbook - Buy from Amazon

One look at the DVD cover for The Bad Mother's Handbook and it would be understandable if you thought this British TV movie starred Robert Patterson. It doesn't. Although he does have an important supporting role. However, this pre-Edward performance is coming out on DVD in an attempt to cash in on his huge popularity. That said, disregarding the reasons why it is coming out, is it worth checking out?

The Show

Catherine Tate stars as Karen Cooper, a woman with a harried home life that is preparing for a week long trip to Paris, without her family. It's work related and she's not just running away from home, no matter how much she'd like to. She has everything in order, she's made sure the house is stocked up on food, she's made sure there's enough gas, etc. She's just waiting on her birth certificate so she can get her passport. Oh, and she has to tell her family. This could be an issue as her mother, Nancy Hesketh (Anne Reid) is living with her and is dealing with dementia. Her ex-husband (Steve John Shepherd) isn't exactly reliable enough to take care of her, while her teenage daughter, Charlie (Holliday Grainger) is, well, a teenage daughter.

When her birth certificate finally arrives she gets another shock, she's adopted. While she's dealing with that, a minor injury to her mom prevents her from going to Paris. The family drama continues when her daughter winds up pregnant. Something that apparently runs in the family. It's too much for Karen and she shuts out her daughter on an emotional level. Fortunately, Charlie has the support of her Nan, who supported her mother when she was in the same situation at the same age. She also has the support of Daniel Gale, the new kid at school, who has a dysfunctional family at home to deal with.

There's a saying that goes, "First impressions are lasting impressions." There's also a saying that, "You're only as good as your last job." I get the feeling the English language can be quite schizophrenic at times. How can the same language have "Out of sight, out of mind" and "Absence makes the heart grow fonder"?

Back to my point, this movie gets off to a very bumpy start. It starts with Catherine Tate speaking directly to the camera setting up her character and her motivations. It's partially a setup to a joke, but it felt like the screenwriter didn't know how to impart this information in a more organic way. I'm not blaming the screenwriter for all of this; after all, as a TV movie, the film has a very strict limit on its running time, (it's only 69 minutes long) so they didn't have a the luxury of taking their time. The opening is clearly the weakest part of the movie and I can see quite a few people becoming disheartened it. That said, in the end the movie won me over. It wasn't exactly what I was expected. It wasn't a "Dysfunctional Family" in a sitcom type way, it was a "Dysfunctional Family" in a much more dramatic way. While Karen is dealing with learning she was adopted, a sick mother, and a pregnant teenage daughter, she has a meltdown and for much of the film is nearly 100% unsympathetic. (There's a reason it's called The Bad Mother's Handbook.) Fortunately, when she's at her worse, there are the relationships between Charlie and her grandmother and Charlie and Daniel that help prevent the movie from becoming too oppressive. Also, in the end the family comes together.

It does feel rushed in the beginning and there are some rough spots, but good performances and a solid story add up to an easy recommendation.

The Extras

Unfortunately, there are no extras on the DVD.

The Verdict

If you go into The Bad Mother's Handbook hoping for a Robert Patterson vehicle, you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are looking for a family drama about mothers and daughter repeating and dealing with the same mistakes, then this film is worth checking out. The DVD has no extras and it is not exactly a bargain price, so I would stick with a rental.

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