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Immoral and cowardly
on 7 April 2012
Maybe I'm too politically correct, but this film came across as immoral to me. Black comedies are defined by the courage of their convictions, and Keeping Mum wusses out long before the end. In the much better Serial Mom, John Waters wasn't afraid to make Kathleen Turner a real monster. She gored men with fire pokers, made obscene phone calls and set her son's best friend on fire. We laughed because she was so outrageous that that's all we could do, and the film was a smart satire on how we glorify killers (Waters himself is a big true crime fan).
Here, when Maggie Smith brains an old man with an iron after he sees her burying his late pet, I dunno, I just didn't laugh. The film wasn't commenting on the violence and there were no humorous elements to it. Instead her murderous tendencies are presented as a quirk, like always wearing a hat or talking in a silly voice. We're invited to laugh when she cuts the brakes of several children's bikes simply because that's a sick thing to do. The children are her young charge's bullies and later the two of them watch as they go tumbling down a steep hillside.
Which brings me to why I think this film is immoral and cowardly. In Serial Mom, people were horrified by Kathleen Turner's actions. When her son and his girlfriend discovered one of her victims, the girlfriend cried that real is blood is brown, unlike movie blood, which is bright red. This was a great moment as it showed two people who fetishised violence confronted by its ugly reality. In Keeping Mum, the characters have no such reaction. They take murder in their stride. The boy laughs gleefully that his bullies are dead on returning home. Not hurt, but dead. By the end at least one character has joined dear old mum and murdered innocent, blameless people.
This could have been satire, like it was in Serial Mom, which showed characters profiting from slaughter then recoiling when faced with it. But Keeping Mum would rather water down this material with light, Vicar of Dibley-style comedy. Well, forgive me, but I don't remember the episode of Dibley where Geraldine Granger staved David Horton's head in with an iron, then roped Alice into helping her hide the body. This is like a cross between To the Manor Born and Psycho. You can't (or at least shouldn't) punctuate a lot of silliness about flaccid vicars and flower-arranging societies with psychopathic behaviour, not unless you have a point to make, which Keeping Mum clearly doesn't.
Perhaps I've mentioned Serial Mom too much in this review. Jean-Luc Godard once said: "In order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie." In my opinion, the older and wiser Serial Mom is the perfect critique of Keeping Mum. The only high point for me was when Patrick Swayze showed up in a thong. A lot of critics cited that as a stunning low point, but I thought Swayze looked incredible. I wish he'd spent more of the film wandering about in that thong, if only to amuse and distract me from the plot.