Writer: Siobhan Fallon Hogan
Director: Vibeke Muasya
American actor Siobhan Fallon Hogan writes and stars in this 2022 movie, A Mother’s Fury (not to be confused with David Langlois’s 2021 film of the same title). Its aim seems a noble one: to expose the horrors of the hazing of freshmen by fraternity houses. It is common knowledge, even to British viewers, that young students are routinely subjected to such humiliating and dangerous rituals, usually involving potentially lethal quantities of alcohol. Public school equivalents – think Tom Brown’s School Days – seem relatively benign.
A Mother’s Fury opens with a hazing ritual in full swing – blindfolded young men are being forced along a forest track while their tormentors abuse them physically and verbally. This is intercut with family scenes of the homely O’Briens. Jimmy’s mother Barbara is determined to ensure he’ll get into his chosen Greek-letter frat house. She appears not to have watched any of the films we’ve seen and so believes all that’s needed is for Jimmy to attend the fraternity rush and enunciate clearly when he repeats the frat house pledge about Virtue and Honour.
The title is a big clue as to what will happen next, and we are duly shown Jimmy being forced to ingest doped alcohol and collapsing, followed by his parents receiving the harrowing phone call, praying around his hospital bed and finally having to switch off of his life support. In case we miss the significance of any of this, the musical score prompts us to respond appropriately.
Jimmy’s university puts out a statement that it is not responsible for his death and that the matter is closed. Barbara is understandably depressed. She hasn’t been one for the internet before, so late one night when she reads up on similar tragedies, she becomes a woman with a mission. She packs her bags that very night and leaves, and suddenly it’s a road movie. The score grows increasingly folksy as she drives around the country to interview other parents who have also lost sons in this way.
It never seems to dawn on her that the internet might be a way of getting news outlets to tell her story, let alone expedite contact with these families. While Fallon Hogan as writer gets comic mileage out of Barbara’s inability to use a mobile, we can see she owns a smart phone as she comes to rely on its video function. So how come she’s in a Twitter-free world?
And here’s the basic problem with the film. Fallon Hogan is a comic actor of long standing, so can’t resist writing Barbara as a Comedy Mom. If there’s such a thing as a Catholic klutz, Barbara is it. She has a crucifix over the marital bed, talks to her favourite saints, reels off Hail Marys during chores, and maddens her teenage children by offering to pray for their welfare. Derry Girls’ Sister Michael would have something choice to say by this point. The overall effect, however, is to fatally undermine the tragic premise of the story.
But that doesn’t really matter it seems, as after several semi-comic encounters with posh people (it’s a very class conscious film), Barbara abandons all hope of getting her senator in DC to listen. At this point her working class husband, who bizarrely was himself in the same frat house as the senator, decides to talk to his dead son’s best friend, Vergil. Now Vergil was a fellow victim of the hazing event, and indeed tried to save Jimmy’s life. And Vergil has incriminating photos on his phone… Now, just when we might expect justice to be done, A Mother’s Fury swerves and becomes a sort of comic revenge movie. There’s a certain satisfaction in the ending. But really this is a very silly film.
Signature Entertainment presents A Mother’s Fury on Digital Platforms 20th June.