The Bad Mother's Handbook:
Here's a British made-for-TV movie from 2007. It's based on a #1 international best selling book, (per the DVD cover) and follows three generations of 'bad mothers' on the fabled Isle. While certainly we don't want to celebrate bad mothers, the term is used loosely here, and we'll get into that later. Oh yeah, did I mention that Robert Pattinson has a role? Squeee! OMG, Robert Pattinson! A year before his starring turn in Twilight! Must be why a British TV movie about teen pregnancy is just now getting a DVD release in the States.
I'll pretend Robert Pattinson is just some regular old actor, opting to simply review the movie. Karen Cooper (Catherine Tate) is a struggling single mother, with a lippy, sexually active daughter, Charlie (Holliday 'Holly' Grainger) and her own senile mother all living under the same roof. It's a tough life, made more difficult by the fact that Karen can't seem to enjoy anything on her own recognizance. Would that she hadn't gotten knocked up as a teenager, the same fate in which her careful daughter now finds herself trapped. (Remember kids, the only safe sex is no sex.) Luckily, Charlie meets a dorky boy named Daniel (Pattinson - oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!) who, like most dorky boys, is willing to drop everything in order to help out a pretty girl.
In all, Bad Mother's Handbook is engaging and sweet, though it definitely feels like a TV movie. Tate, Grainger and others perform ably and with realism. Males are mostly left to play for laughs however, which is OK, since the message here is one of female empowerment in the face of sincere difficulty. It's no secret that mothers, somehow, still bear the brunt of responsibility for raising kids, and it's nice to see strong, capable women handling less than ideal circumstances.
Don't expect super-charged drama. Though director Robin Sheppard moves action stylishly, gliding from trouble to trouble and generation to generation with slick edits - Charlie for instance, asks a question of her 'planned parenthood' advisor, and an answer to a different question is given to Karen as the plot moves along. On the other hand, dramatic revelations are frequently telegraphed by swooshing noises and clunky zoom shots of shocked faces - a conceit that might be satirical, or might just be clumsy. It's clear that the men, though sincere and well intentioned, are meant mostly to generate laughs. But what's up with Pattinson? (How dare you!) His gawky geek is like a weird Harry Potter/ Doctor Who hybrid, with square glasses, too many scarves, and some sort of scoliotic hunch, which keeps his shoulders near his ears at all times. He's cute, I suppose, (damn right!) but if I were a right-minded girl, I'd run from his bumbling tics with a quickness.
If you've got a British teenage daughter on the crux of sexual activity, this frank, 70-minute movie delivers its message with wit, realism, and a distinct lack of pandering, even if it seldom rises far above average for TV fare. However, if you just have to see everything that dreamy old Pattinson has ever been in, this isn't exactly a star vehicle for the glittery one - though it points up how well he does an American accent in those vampire movies. As a public service movie on a bare-bones DVD, Bad Mother's Handbook merits a Rent It recommendation, but as a Pattinson cash-grab, I'd advise only the most heartsick to check it out.
1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen reveals this as a TV movie with good bones. There aren't any compression artifacts or anything similar to be found. You'd have to work at it to screw up a transfer of an extras-less, hour-long movie on DVD. Detail levels are decent, the picture is fairly clear and crisp, and colors are warm and dreamy, a nice change of pace from the usual squalid British gray-zone movie look.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio works just fine, though the movie doesn't sport a very active mix, and as a dialog-heavy feature, the dynamic range presented is planted firmly in the middle. That said, Yankee ears will want to stand alert to decipher frequently thick accents.
Naught but a Trailer Gallery and English and Spanish Subtitles (handy, those) are delivered. There's Closed Captioning too.
This is a serviceable made-for-TV movie that's essentially about handling teen pregnancy. It's got heart, humor, and a sensible attitude. Yet, it also sports a slight 70-minute runtime, (including credits) and a distinct TV vibe, meaning it won't be on your list of Oscar contenders. But it has Robert Pattinson! Lovely, lovely Pattinson, in a smallish role that will probably enrage American girls looking to drool over their love, and that is of course why this 2007 movie is even finding its way to DVD. Rent It if you're really desperate.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com