Kids, ugh! Who'd have 'em? They're noisy, they smell and you can't get away from them. Then, when they've grown up a little, and they're at that age when they're constantly at one another, and they won't leave each other alone, wouldn't it be nice to just give them to someone else to look after, maybe just for an afternoon, so that you can relax and have time for yourself and maybe, just maybe, hear yourself think.
Grace (Baxter) is a single mum who could really do with a day off. However, without any family support, she decides on a day out instead. A change is meant to be as good as a rest, right? So she heads to the beach with her two little darlings in search of some relaxation, or some fun, or at the very least a change of scenery. There she unexpectedly meets Jenny (Stuart-Hill), a single mum with two of her own, who seems on the outside at least, to be keeping things together just that little bit better.
Jenny certainly appears to be better prepared for her day out at the beach; Her children have got tools for digging and making sandcastles, she's got a bin-bag so she can feel comfortable kneeling on the sand, she even has sweets which can be shared around. Anybody might think that she was showing off with her mothering skills in a 'look at me, I could run a website or a blog about this' kind of way. Thankfully she labels some of the other mothers in the area as kind of 'judgy' and Grace begins to feel more comfortable in her new found friend's company. The kids too, are getting on like a house on fire, so when the complicated issue of fish and chips rears its ugly head, and Jenny mentions that she has no money, is it any wonder that Grace agrees to leave her children momentarily, with someone who seems kind and caring and a kindred spirit, while she heads off for five minutes in search of a few bags of chips?
This dilemma, at the crux of the film, digs deep into the notion of what motherhood means in today's world. Gone are the times when you could throw your children out of the house in the morning and expect them to come home dirty, tired and happy at the end of the day. Does the decision to leave her children alone, let them out of her sight, even for one single moment, instinctively make her a Bad Mother?
We watch the fallout of Grace's decision as the film unfolds, told with incredible nuance and an honest reality that really hits home to the heart of the matter. The acting is superb, on all counts, and you can tell that the emotions conveyed on screen are being drawn from real, personal experiences. The script, too, shows a clear insight into the minds of parents and children, to a large extent between the sparring of the siblings, but mostly through the need for connection amongst the adults and the willingness to believe in the kinship of shared circumstance.
The sound editing works wonders on the sparseness of the beach with the crashing of the waves being both calming and threatening depending on at which point you listen to them, and the direction with its mix of close-ups and long shots keeps us guessing as to whether we should let others near or hold them at a distance. It is a credit to the film-makers that the whole situation feels entirely real throughout. The way the children interact, the small intricacies of character, the rubber-banding of trust and scepticism, all serve to draw the viewer into the situation and really involve themselves in the undertakings on that empty beach.
When a bin-bag can take on its own story and change character and intent dramatically throughout the course of ten minutes, and two young girls can shift from pop starlets to Kubrick horror twins within the same period, you know you are dealing with something special. The questions posed by Bad Mother will stay with me for a long time to come and I can't even comprehend how things might appear from a mum's point of view.
Watch it, share it, talk about it, be okay with it, or not, but either way we can all learn from observing a Bad Mother.