Brenda Blethyn gives an amazing performance in Introducing the Dwights. As an aging stand-up comic whose brief moment of glory was nearly a lifetime ago, she's a heartbreaking anomaly, a woman out of touch with her times, her family, even herself. Blethyn's Jean Dwight is by turns funny and furious, desperate to recapture the limelight, even though she knows it'll never happen.
Unfortunately, Blethyn's performance belongs in another movie, not this bipolar comedy-drama. At times, it's a mawkish drama about a mother-son relationship that's uncomfortable to watch and too melodramatic to be believed. Then, it's a sprightly comedy about an innocent boy who hits the adolescent jackpot - meeting a beautiful girl who's hot for him. Just when you start to accept that disconnect, the film morphs into a study in familial relationships, where the characters go out of their way to not get along.
And when the screenwriters can't bring these disparate characters together, they lean on a mentally disabled teen brother, Mark, who serves as mild comic relief, and, more importantly, a rallying point for the family when times get rough.
Blethyn's Jean is an Australian comedian whose fame faded years ago. Her life has been pretty dark since then, and she's ended up with a broken marriage to a British country-and-western singer, two sons and a reputation that gets her the occasional music-hall gig but little else.
Jean spends almost all her waking moments mother-henning her two sons. That's fine with Mark (Richard Wilson), who thrives under the attention. But it's chafing to Tim (Khan Chittenden), who's beginning to realize there's a world beyond the home of his controlling mother.
And after catching the eye of Jill (Emma Booth) while working as a deliveryman, he starts to break free. He's intrigued, but she's hopelessly smitten. Not to mention insecure; when Tim seems hesitant to seize on her affections, Jill immediately thinks she's the problem. It isn't, but her willingness to try everything short of bribery to make their relationship work is a comedic gold mine, and the charming Booth expertly wrings both laughter and compassion from her audience.
Still, nothing seriously threatens Blethyn's control of the movie. There's no questioning her strength as an actress, but the force with which Jean steamrolls through the film seems out-of-proportion to its comedic underpinnings. When Jean blows up near the end of Dwights, it seems more because Blethyn is tired of keeping the character under wraps rather than a natural progression of the movie's plot.
And yet, there are moments - including the final scene, in which Jean successfully channels the spirit of Tina Turner - when Introducing the Dwights suggests what it could have been. If only, instead of introducing the family members, it had focused on just one or two of them. Jean's story alone, without the teen-romantic-comedy interludes, would have made for an interesting film. So would the story of Tim and Jill. Trying to tell them both at once, however, does neither any favors.
>>>Introducing the Dwights (Warner Independent Pictures) Starring Brenda Blethyn, Khan Chittenden, Emma Booth. Directed by Cherie Nowlan. Rated R. Time 105 minutes.