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Rated 3.08 stars
by 157 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Wise Mother Knows Her Own Son
by Donald Levit

With disastrous, unsurprising, from-the-headlines results, no one does what title We Need to Talk About Kevin urges. Said son (Ezra Miller) is a rotten kid from howling babyhood through spitefully delayed potty training (Rock Duer) and nasty childhood (Jasper Newell).

Motiveless malignancy in cinema youngsters is no rarity though, except for blood-will-out The Bad Seed, ordinarily from demonic possession. In this newest entry, the boy’s parents’ marriage looks sound enough, with money no problem, but mommy and daddy Eva and Franklin Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly) do not talk all that deeply to one another and never to their older, wayward child.

Grabbing at straws, she lectures that the cause is not confused teen hormones or metabolism but the poor diet he favors of oozy overloaded jelly sandwiches and crushed multicolored kiddie cereal. Edibles in close-up abound. Perhaps food is the tie-in, or perhaps it is the recurrent Lady Macbeth cleansing of blood-red spots, to explain the otherwise irrelevant opening in which, younger, a spacey-looking Eva is crucified horizontally above rivers of crushed tomatoes in Valencia’s tomatina, tomato festival.

Several end-of-year best actress awards have been voted Swinton, but really all the actress does from start to finish is to appear always out of it, perhaps to indicate emotional damage. A walking dead in life, she does not even know how to dance.

Coscripted by director-executive producer Lynne Ramsay from a novel by Lionel (Margaret Ann) Shriver, the story is confusing as to time and place -- location filming in New York City and Stamford, Connecticut -- and it takes long (if ever) to disclose how much is in reality flashback. Some of that past is stylized, short and recognizable enough -- the younger, giggly in love, and childless couple on a rainy street -- but the woman’s current single life in a red-splattered clapboard house beside elevated tracks is a mystery worlds away from the McMansion shared with husband, son and daughter Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich). If this is the same town, why has she stayed on in such a fallen financial state, among people who hate, ostracize or slug her in the street? Final frames hint at departure, though psychological baggage travels along: in a sole burst of self-awareness, she has assured two Mormon proselytizers that she is “going straight to hell the whole time.”

Kevin attacks her in whatever offers itself to hand, even the computer curiosity for which she rightly apologizes. Apart from momentary out-of-character cuddles over archer Robin Hood, he appears to be entirely daddy’s boy. But daddy does not grasp it, either, and his pooh-poohing glosses of erratic behavior are totally off target.

The folkie-pop score is commendable, for once making sense through lyrics rather than mere knee-jerk nostalgia. But plotline gets overwhelmed in fractured chronology. After the fact, story outline can be pieced together, but beyond essential motivation, there also remain a number of unintentional loose ends. A bookshop advertises Eva as author, but is this out-of-left-field totally in her imagination, or is it inadequate indication that in some past she functioned as a more or less connected human being? Or, in the “chilling, unforgettable climax,” how is the unnecessarily but carefully showcased yellow bicycle lock on the outside of Goldstone High School doors?

People prefer tidiness, although movies are not obligated to offer up reasons: even head-shaved Kevin is “not so sure.” Viewed approximately through Eva’s eyes, however, WNTAC contains its own doom; dreamwalking and imperceptive, she (and Franklin) cannot serve as point of entry into this world of constant sorrow. Not necessarily that she is unequipped to be a mother, but that this “psychological thriller” suggests but fails to fulfill, the intended chills leaving this viewer cold and indifferent.

(Released by Oscilloscope and rated R for disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality and language.)

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