Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

REVIEW | "I'm Glad My Mother's Alive" is the Rare Case for Spoilers

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 3, 2011 at 4:29AM

French father-son directing duo Nathan and Claude Miller have assembled a tense family drama that provides a fresh take on familiar circumstances: An adopted son in search of his true lineage. It's unclear at what point Thomas (played as an adolescent by Maime Renard, followed by Vincent Rottiers as a young adult) reaches the titular conclusion, but the emotional journey to that abstract destination constantly registers on his face.
3

French father-son directing duo Nathan and Claude Miller have assembled a tense family drama that provides a fresh take on familiar circumstances: An adopted son in search of his true lineage. It's unclear at what point Thomas (played as an adolescent by Maime Renard, followed by Vincent Rottiers as a young adult) reaches the titular conclusion, but the emotional journey to that abstract destination constantly registers on his face.

The words "I'm Glad My Mother's Alive" are never spoken until a crucial moment late in the game, but it's an open-ended statement throughout. As a middle schooler, Thomas isn't entirely happy with his well-meaning foster parents. Abandoned by his mother (Sophie Cattani) at the age of five, the 12-year-old Thomas grapples with early memories of a woman he never got to know.

Both sweetly innocent and tragically disconnected, Thomas comes across like Antoine Doinel with rage issues. The frustration alienates him from the world, deepening the character's immediate need to heal his psychological scars. But the animosity Thomas harbors toward his foster parents is matched only by the disdain he has for his birth mother and when he manages to track her down, he can barely look her in the eye.

There's more to the situation than surface events imply. With the passing glances shared by Thomas and his disaffected mother, the directors hint at an eerie oedipal yearning, then abandon the implication for much of the running time. By establishing Thomas' fragmented youth through flashbacks, the screenplay drops a tantalizing puzzle piece that remains largely beneath the surface -- until a single revealing moment brings it back.

The first half of "I'm Glad My Mother's Alive" effectively inhabits a child's mind in a manner that recalls Maurice Pialat's marvelous 1968 debut "The Naked Childhood." THe second half jump forward by eight years and into darker territory. Now a disillusioned car mechanic, Thomas must cope with a senile father and an increasingly estranged relationship with his foster mother (Christine Citti). In a moment of sudden inspiration, he reconnects with his birth mom and forms an uneasy relationship. Finding her still single but raising a child she decided to keep, he makes hesitant steps toward accepting her, but not in the role that she abandoned years earlier. "It feels wrong," he says, underscoring a developing sense of dread. His uncertainty has a logical flow: Always at war with his surroundings, Thomas never has a proper outlet to vent. The anger begins to bubble and eventually bursts.

Despite these internal developments, "I'm Glad My Mother's Alive" is largely a conventional drama legitimized by its lead performance. Rottiers, a relative newcomer, maintains a stern, assaultive glare that externalizes his ongoing angst. The Millers frame the action with a cold sense of remove that keeps Thomas' fury at bay until he undergoes a startling transformation.

Opening credits announce that "I'm Glad My Mother's Alive" is "based on a true story," an initially useless piece of information. However, it not only makes sense in the concluding act but it takes on a specificity that validates the exposition's slow crawl. The screenplay's retroactive suspense invites comparison to the work of Claude Chabrol, although Thomas has a more contemporary parallel with the frustrated young man played by Xavier Dolan in the Canadian drama "I Killed My Mother." Both movies use their titles as statements to relate serious mamma drama, but only "I'm Glad My Mother's Alive" provides an interpretive lens for the entire narrative. It's the rare case of an insightful spoiler.

criticWIRE grade: B+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Strand Releasing opens "I'm Glad My Mother's Alive" at New York's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on Friday, where it stands a chance of doing solid business due to strong reviews and word-of-mouth.

This article is related to: In Theaters






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More