January 13, 1997 12:00 PM

Albert Brooks, Debbie Reynolds

You may have wondered how the abrasively upbeat Debbie Reynolds could have given birth to Carrie Fisher, world-weary actress and author of Postcards from the Edge. The answer can be found in Mother. The 64-year-old star of Singin’ in the Rain takes to director-writer Brooks’s astringent (and very funny) comedy as if she had spent her life sipping vinegar. Her performance, one of small, precise touches, is among the best of her long career.

The story begins when Brooks, a science-fiction novelist frustrated by his lack of success with women, decides the problem must be Freudian. He moves back in with his widowed mother (Reynolds), a suburban matron not all that eager to have her son back. She follows this morose, middle-aged man about the house with a spidery nervousness. When they venture to the mall, she impulsively tells sales clerks about his divorces. Is this meanness or just thoughtlessness? She is, like all mothers, inscrutable.

The movie arrives at a conclusion that would be sentimental if it were made by anyone other than Brooks, a comedian who wears his self-loathing with the panache of a martyr in a designer hair shirt. Even Mother’s sweet moments are venomous. (PG-13)

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