As a filmmaker, Darren Aronofsky has never been one to shy away from the extremes of human behaviour, whether exploring its darkest heart, exposing its deepest psychosis or celebrating its brightest achievements. His latest, mother!, is thematically similar to his Oscar-winning Black Swan, in that it embraces both the lure and lunacy of artistic ambition. Whereas Black Swan was a beguiling, beautifully crafted psychological drama, however, this is an infuriating exercise of cacophonous style over substance.
It’s a testament to the strength of his talent and vision that David O’Russell is readily regarded as one of today’s greatest filmmakers, despite the fact that he has made just seven films – discounting the disowned Accidental Love – in the past two decades. With topics ranging from the opportunities of war (Three Kings) to blue-collar boxing (The Fighter) and the exquisite art of the con (American Hustle), O’Russell’s screenplays demonstrate a colour and eloquence that are expertly serviced by his masterful direction. It’s an exemplary body of work that sets a very high bar; one which his latest, screwball drama Joy, struggles to reach.
While Susanne Bier’s latest may share similar themes with her previous work, Serena, not least the extreme behaviours born out of desperation and the life-changing nature of parenthood, the two could not be more different in their approach. With Serena, Bier’s freedom of expression seemed stifled by an overwritten screenplay and an overwrought romance, not to mention the fact that it was so cloying constructed to showcase its two stellar leads, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. A Second Chance, by comparison, is a force of nature, demonstrating an unflinching honesty both of subject matter and style.