Whenever Brenda Blethyn steps onto the screen, she makes it impossible to pay attention to anyone else, and that isn't entirely a compliment. Since her breakthrough role in Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies, Blethyn has been the go-to actress for emotional train wrecks, specializing in unsettled middle-aged women whose volatility often blurs the line between comedy and psychosis. It's hard to imagine anyone else playing the part of the washed-up entertainer and single mother in Introducing The Dwights—but again, that isn't entirely a compliment, because the film ultimately wants to be a quirky, feel-good comedy, and it isn't comfortable tiptoeing along the razor edge of Blethyn's performance. The few laughs are stifled by awkwardness, and the psychodrama is undermined by the fact that these characters are supposed to be loveably dysfunctional, not a disturbing mass of hard boozing, emotional dependency, and Oedipal anxiety.
Once a rising star in the '70s (or so she would like to imagine), Blethyn's brassy comedienne now works the day shift spooning slop at a cafeteria while picking up the occasional gig performing to half-filled nightclubs. Her stand-up routine owes much to Phyllis Diller and Roseanne Barr in its "phallocentric" gags about domestic problems, mostly in the sack. Naturally, Blethyn's material mortifies her oldest son (Khan Chittenden), whose tentativeness about sex threatens to sabotage his relationship with pretty new girlfriend Emma Booth. Along with his mentally disabled brother (Richard Wilson), Chittenden has been tethered to his mother so closely that others tend to get shut out. This includes his well-meaning father (Frankie J. Holden), a washed-up country singer who moonlights as a security guard while promoting a self-released album of Conway Twitty covers, and Booth, whom Blethyn views as a threat to the family unit.
If all of these elements sound familiar—single mother and aspiring middle-aged entertainer, logging time at a dead-end job in the food industry—it's because Introducing The Dwights bears an uncanny resemblance to Martin Scorsese's great 1974 drama Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Though Scorsese's heroine is also an intense, foul-tongued, irascible personality who won't take "no" for an answer, she isn't a monster, either, just a tough woman trying to hold onto her dreams in spite of all the doors slammed in her face. Much as the outrageously pat ending tries to smooth things over, Blethyn's character is a vulgar cartoon by comparison, and the actress greedily consumes the scenery. That may be fitting for a woman who craves the spotlight, but the film suffers for her egocentrism.