“I’ve been bleeding my whole life.”

Mother, Couch is a boiling point of a picture. Written and directed by Niclas Larsson (and based on Jerker Virdborg’s novel Mamma i soffa), this is an edgy story about small discourtesies and how they sometimes build into something big, nasty, and violent. Three half-siblings (Ewan McGregor, Rhys Ifans, and Lara Flynn Boyle) are forced back together when their mother (Ellen Burstyn) refuses to move from a couch in a big, dilapidated furniture store. The daughter (Taylor Russell) of the store owner appears very unworried by the dilemma. She even invites them to stay the night if it’s helpful.

For a debut feature, Larsson is incredibly confident in his cast and aesthetic. This is essentially a one-location narrative with a handful of sojourns to a beach, a house. McGregor leads as David, the unsure, thin-skinned of the three children. As he negotiates with their mother to get off the couch, his exasperated wife (Lake Bell, sadly underused) urges him to place some of the responsibility on his siblings and come home to his own family. David is nevertheless saddled with staying overnight at the store with his mother, who reveals she’s concealing a small knife for protection. She proceeds to accidentally (?) stab her son. A surprised David looks at his wound, then at the mean old woman who birthed him. Then back at the wound. “Well, I’m not gonna stab you again,” she says incredulously.

It only gets weirder from there. Russell, a young actress who has harnessed a specific, disarming kind of goodness in her performance style, serves as a strange balm for the fractured family. At one point she observes to David: “None of you look alike.” David, with a heap of sadness in his eyes, explain that they all had different fathers. With each passing decade, McGregor’s demeanor has broadened, his bite has softened, and the emotion seems to seep out of him in a way it did not many years before. If he’s not one of our best current actors, no one is.

A relatively slow first act soon moves with a frantic, stressful pace that will sneak up on most viewers. All of it’s happening within a world that’s color-timed like a coffee stain, the literal set of Oakbed’s Furniture seemingly moments from collapsing. One may recall someone like Charlie Kaufman, though this feels a bit reductive to both sides. Ifans and Lara Flynn Boyle play well next to each other, allowing their competing energies to make a bad situation worse.

And then there is Burstyn. The great Ellen Burstyn. An actress whose energy is truly inimitable. As Mother, Couch‘s third act deteriorates into symbolism, metaphor, and the like, Burstyn and McGregor find a truth the film has promised to deliver. This is a work that appears to have staying power in this writer’s thoughts. Only one way to find out.

Mother, Couch opens on July 5.

Grade: B

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