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Movie Review

A comedy in which nothing works

Brenda Blethyn plays a cook who does stand-up and has a difficult relationship with her sons. Brenda Blethyn plays a cook who does stand-up and has a difficult relationship with her sons. (Daniel Smith)

The Dwights are that loud, crashing family across the street or down the hall, the family no one wants to be. You see the mother arguing with either of her two sons in the driveway. You hear her off on a drunken tirade and wonder, "Do I call the police or the Academy": Brenda Blethyn is at it again.

"Introducing the Dwights," a grueling comedy about this screwed-up troupe, offers her another opportunity to play a force of maternal oppression. This time she's Jean Dwight, a Brit living in Australia as a cantina cook who does stand - up at night. Jean expects her two boys -- virginal Tim (Khan Chittenden ) and handicapped Mark (Richard Wilson ) -- to smother her with affection as she suffocates them with her insecurities. When they fall for women, she turns spiteful, lashing out, especially at Tim's girlfriend, Jill (Emma Booth ).

Nothing about this movie works, not the title (it used to be called "Clubland "), not Blethyn's attempt to inject comedy into her rickety stereotype of a character. We're meant to find these people a quirky and lovably dysfunctional lot, but what the director, Cherie Nowlan , and the screenwriter, Keith Thompson , think is cute (the family car is a moving truck) is aggravatingly so.

The movie is also shot and edited erratically. For the first 45 minutes, scenes end randomly to move on to the next unfinished development. Is this dark comedy? Is it domestic tragedy? None of the characters is stable enough to hold our attention -- anyone could have a tearful outburst at any moment. Jean is an egomaniac who has warped her children and driven her ex-husband (Frankie J. Holden ), a has-been recording artist, to cheat -- that's his explanation anyway.

With a more clinical approach , from France or Eastern Europe maybe, "Introducing the Dwights" might have come through as a psychological study. But it likes these people and these kooky scenarios too much to detach itself enough to simply observe them. And it doesn't understand them well enough to convince us they make sense.

It'd be a lot easier to tolerate Jean's antics were she talented. Or if the movie had any sense that she's not. In one of her routines, she says that making love to a big man is "like having a wardrobe fall on you in the middle of the night -- with the key still in the lock." This is sub-Roseanne Barr stuff. In the first or second scene Jean says she's trying to become a gay icon. But the filmmakers dutifully hold a pillow over any kind of camp sensibility until it stops breathing. That's the only thing that's done with any kind of confidence.

This movie doesn't tell us much about the Dwights, their friends, or their lovers. The last sequence is an emotional and psychological mystery, given what's come before it. Maybe there is a reason that an Englishwoman living in Australia would sing "Nutbush City Limits" at a loved one's wedding. But we never find out. A hundred minutes later and we still haven't gotten beyond introductions.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/ movies/blog.

'Related'

Introducing the Dwights

Directed by: Cherie Nowlan

Written by: Keith Thompson

Starring: Brenda Blethyn , Khan Chittenden , Richard Wilson , Emma Booth

At: Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square

Running time: 105 minutes

Rated: R (sexual content and language)

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