That’s “incredible” in the sense of “too ludicrous to be believed,” not in the awestruck meaning of the word. “The Good Mother” starts depressingly realistic, as Marissa wakes up one morning on her couch with a half-empty bottle on the coffee table in front of her. Hungover and scowling—her default setting, as it turns out—she drags herself into work, where her son Toby (Jack Reynor) interrupts a staff meeting to bring Marissa some terrible news: Her other son, Michael, is dead.
It’s been months since Marissa last spoke to Michael, who alienated his family in the leadup to his death by way of his worsening heroin addiction. It wasn’t the drugs that killed him, but a bullet from an unknown killer in a late-night drive-by shooting. Toby suspects Michael’s best friend, Ducky (Hopper Penn), with whom Michael was involved in shady dealings, pulled the trigger. But Marissa intuits that there’s more going on here than a soured friendship and a drug deal gone awry.
So does Paige (Olivia Cooke), Michael’s girlfriend, who’s now pregnant and alone—except for Marissa, who begrudgingly accepts Paige’s presence in her life after decking her in the jaw at the funeral. The tentative relationship between Marissa and Paige, neither of whom particularly like each other but are bonded by their love for Michael, is the film’s most engrossing aspect. It’s more interesting than their joint investigation into Michael’s death, which sputters and spins before losing its momentum entirely. By the time we find out what really happened to him, “The Good Mother” has already moved on.
This happens about an hour in, with the first of multiple plot developments that set “The Good Mother” on a tawdry new path to an unsatisfying ending. It would be gauche to reveal them here, of course, but they take the story from convincingly bleak to clichéd and ridiculous. These twists are laid atop the realistically textured setting that director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte works so hard to establish in the film’s first two-thirds, invalidating it. Why bother shooting drone footage of sooty highway overpasses and hiring Larry Fessenden to play a grief counselor if you’re going to abandon reality midway through?