She can’t. Run, that is, one of the little jokes that director/co-writer Aneesh Chaganty has with the audience in this two-hander about a mother, her wheelchair-using daughter and the young woman’s impending flight from the family home to university.
Another joke is what a great mother Diane (Sarah Paulson) is. She’s home-schooled her daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen), feeds her with vegetables grown (organically, surely) in their very own garden, the better to ensure that Chloe grows up big and strong. Except that isn’t Chloe’s fate. She’s been born with a range of problems – asthma, diabetes, a blood condition and paralysis from the waist down – but she’s a smart and resourceful kid who has risen above the potential handicaps, thanks in no small part to the mother.
Diane isn’t a great mother at all, though, a fact that has already been signalled early on to anyone who’s seen a lot of this sort of thing – no one is this awesome in a movie unless as a signifier that in fact they’re not. Other, actual, signals are also there for all of us to see – Diane seems very keen on intercepting the mailman before he gets to the house, and she’s also started adding a new drug to Chloe’s regimen, which Chaganty’s camera keeps doing close-ups on, a visual klaxon.
I did not mention that the house has terrible mobile phone reception? Or that Chloe seems to have no friends or anyone she can confide in? Or that computer time is strictly rationed by her mother? And that Chloe doesn’t own a tablet or any smart device that connects her up to the world?
They’re not plot holes, just massive conveniences that seem designed to allow the rest of the story to play out unimpeded. Plot holes then. Psychologically it doesn’t really add up either. Imagine you discovered your mother was actually scheming against you, and maybe always had been… that would have some emotional consequences. Chloe doesn’t seem too distressed.
If you can ignore all this side of things, the meta stuff, Chaganty is actually really excellent at stoking tension in individual scenes. Once Chloe has started to suspect that Diane is a bit off – maybe a lot off – it’s down to her to try and tell someone, though being in a wheelchair and being utterly reliant on her mother doesn’t make it easy. But she tries, tries, tries in a series of scenes that are minutely choreographed, tightly crafted exercises in white-knuckle drama.
Apart from the mailman (Pat Healy), a pharmacist (Sharon Bajer) and a couple of concerned doctors at one point, this is really all about Diane and Chloe. Sarah Paulson is a genius actor who knows how to be nuanced, though there isn’t much of a call for that here once the cat is out of the bag. By about 50 minutes before the end, both Chloe and the audience fully know what they’re dealing with: extreme bonkers batshit mother syndrome.
Somewhere towards the end we also learn something else about Chloe which is entirely unnecessary for the fluid functioning of the story, but it’s emblematic of what’s going on here, an exercise in excess at its happiest once Paulson has been disencumbered of any need to pretend to be normal. After that, the OMGs just keep on coming.
To be concise, this is not a great film, but it does genuinely have its great moments, and Allen puts on a very convincing display of forcefulness against Paulson, who is not an actor to be trifled with. Enjoy it at home, with a couple of analytical cynical friends of the “what about the…?” school.
© Steve Morrissey 2020