Before I get to reviewing Smother, I must address the elephant in the room. WHAT is going on with Diane Keaton’s movie role choices in the past few years? Sure, she was adorable back in the day in Annie Hall, and even in Father of the Bride she held her own. She was also good in Something’s Gotta Give and (the underrated) The Family Stone. But then her career derailed.
Here’s a thought — maybe quirky and neurotic doesn’t play so well in your 50s and 60s (after all, there’s probably a very good reason we haven’t seen much of Debra Winger or Goldie Hawn as of late)?
Keaton has gone on to star in a string of mediocre, borderline terrible films, including Because I Said So and Mad Money. In fact, in recent years, Keaton has repeatedly played shrill, clingy, and overbearing (Because I Said So) or just plain not funny (Mad Money).
And then there’s Smother, a film about Noah Cooper (played by Dax Shepard of Employee of the Month), a physical therapist who is laid off/fired and heads back to his former employer, a carpet salesman, for work. Noah’s wife, Clare (played by Liv Tyler), is a teacher with babies on the brain and a loud biological clock, and she doesn’t care that Noah just lost his job — she wants to have a baby, now! Noah’s mother, Marilyn (played by Keaton), has never quite managed to cut the apron strings, and makes her presence known whether she’s with her son or not, leaving lengthy, scatterbrained phone messages while the couple screen their calls.
When Marilyn shows up one night and announces she thinks her husband (Noah’s father) is having an affair, she wheedles an invite out of them to stay at their place. Of course, she arrives already assuming her son will open his home to her, as she has her bags and pack of yippity yappity dogs in tow already. So the already overbearing mother is bunking with her son and daughter-in-law. Of course, Marilyn also decides she needs to get a job. So she applies to work where else but the very same place her son is now working, so they can sell carpet side by side.
Noah ends up stuck living with his mom, working with his mom, and trying to please Clare (while absurdly avoiding any chance of impregnating her). Throw in Clare’s cousin, a screenwriting slacker who parks himself on their couch, and you’ve got most of the makings for a sitcom full of canned laughter to tell the audience when something is funny, just in case they aren’t paying attention (or just don’t find any of it funny).
Shepard does an adequate job in this film, but given that Keaton is overbearing in both her role and her acting, he doesn’t have to do much or have much to do. Tyler (The Incredible Hulk, The Strangers, Reign Over Me) is sorely miscast in a trying-to-be-funny film (she seems to do better with more serious, or maybe just smaller, roles).
Smother, directed by Vince Di Meglio and adapted from a screenplay he wrote with Tim Rasmussen (both of whom co-wrote License to Wed), also stars the very funny Mike White, the guy who wrote Year of the Dog, Nacho Libre, The School of Rock, The Good Girl, and Orange County, all very funny films. White plays Clare’s cousin and sets up the only funny aspect of the entire film, which is the fact that his absurd screenplay idea is for a science fiction horror film about a Vietnam war hero who turns into a human mosquito.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with audio in Dolby Digital and Spanish subtitles. Smother is rated PG-13 “for crude and sexual content, some drug material and language,” and has a 92-minute run time. Extras are as sparse as the laughs this film produces, and include only the short "Behind the Scenes," which features interviews with cast and crew, and the obligatory director’s commentary.
Smother was not screened in advance for critics, most likely because the critics would have left the theater within about half an hour of the opening credits. In the end, it’s annoying, unfunny, and a waste of time. (However, if you’re looking for a funny film that follows the same sort of premise, I recommend The Ex, starring Shepard’s doppelganger, Zach Braff, as well as the very funny Amanda Peet and Jason Bateman.)