Mum’s List is the latest release from writer, and director Niall Johnson (The Big Swap, The Ghost of Greville Lodge). The film, which is based on a true story, follows a widower and his two sons as they cope with the death of the boys’ mother, who leaves behind life lessons for the 3 to follow.
The film follows 3 different timelines: when Singe (Rafe Spall) and Kate (Emilia Foxe) meet; when Kate is diagnosed with cancer and her journey with the cancer thereafter; and the journey of Singe and his two sons after their mother dies.
The film’s over-reliance on material with the intent of making the audience cry, renders the film emotionally exhausting, so much so that very few moments in the movie feel like they earn, or live up to, the emotional impact they purport to carry.
As is to be expected from the two leads Rafe Spall, and Emilia Foxe, the acting is stellar, with Spall in particular turning in a decent performance as a grief stricken widower striving to sustain a healthy life for his two children, the eldest of whom survived cancer himself.
Unfortunately, both characters, and by extension the actors, are let down by a mediocre script which prevents the characters from being developed to the point where you feel they are properly sympathetic.
The film makes an attempt to draw tears from the audience at such a regular rate throughout the 1hr 40m runtime, that nothing has any real emotional impact on the viewer, which is a massive let down considering the tragic nature of the material.
The worst thing about the film, however, is how underdeveloped and under-appreciated the two child characters are. For starters, Reef (played by William Stagg), who is the eldest son that survived cancer from a very young age himself, is so underdeveloped to the point that his own individual journey with cancer is completely disregarded. So much so that when, in one of many flashbacks in the film, Singe finds out that Reef is in complete remission, his relieved reaction lacks any kind of emotional weight.
It is a real waste, as the only moment in the film which is legitimately tear-jerking is when Singe cracks and tells his brother Matt (played by Bobby Lockwood) about how Reef’s nappies were toxic as a result of his chemotherapy, and how he would have to be tied down in bed to prevent being wrapped up in the medical wires. It is a genuinely tragic story, and one that is not explored nearly enough throughout the film.
Secondly, and arguably worse, is just how much the younger child Finn (played by Matthew Stagg) is almost completely ignored. So ignored, in fact, that you would be forgiven for forgetting that there were, indeed, two children. It’s bad enough that Reef is so badly underdeveloped and underappreciated, but Finn being completely ignored makes both boys’ presence in the film almost redundant.
As previously touched on, the film is far too over reliant on “tear-jerking” moments that it becomes emotionally exhausting. Quite simply, nobody wants to feel sad for over an hour and a half. It really takes its toll on the viewer when the film drags on and on for the final 20 minutes. It is an exhausting experience that tests the viewer’s patience.
Now, to be fair to a film which I have been slating throughout this review thus far, there are a few positives. As I mentioned, the acting is stellar. As well as that, there are a few powerful moments, such as the aforementioned scene involving Singe and his brother, as well as the moment when Kate finds out that she is terminal.
Unfortunately, for all of these positives, a mediocre script, lack of character development, and emotionally exhausting material prevents the actual real life story from being told in any sort of meaningful manner.