Momma's Man Review
Young adolescents with a case of arrested development, unwilling or uncertain about how to handle the responsibilities of adulthood, has long been a subject beloved of US indie filmmaking and of the ultra-indie “mumblecore” movement in particular – Funny Ha Ha, LOL, Team Picture, Dance Party, USA and Hannah Takes The Stairs all deal with it to a large extent, but so too does Azazel Jacobs in his delightful second feature The GoodTimesKid. While one sometimes wonders whether that generation of filmmakers can themselves ever summon up the energy and the inclination to take their own lives and work to the next level, Azazel Jacobs shows in his wonderful third feature Momma’s Man where such indifference can lead (inevitably not much further on), but in the process he clearly shows himself as a director with the willingness and the ability to make that creative leap forward.
What is different in Momma’s Man from the outset is that his principal character Mikey is already a relatively successful businessman, living in California, married to Laura and father to a newborn baby. His problems start however with a business trip back to New York when Mikey decides to spend a few days at his parents’ apartment, finding his old bed waiting for him with all the objects and collections of his childhood there. When his return flight is cancelled, Mikey takes advantage of the fact to spend a little more time with the folks, sure that Laura can look after their baby for a little longer and that work can be managed with a few phone calls. Days pass however and it just seems too much trouble to book that ticket for the flight back home. You could get used to living at home again, surrounded by all those memories of the past, the collections of toys and comics, old letters and high-school mementos, and your mother’s home cooking doesn’t go down badly either. The days soon turn into weeks however and there’s no sign of Mikey making arrangements to return home to his work and family in California.
On paper it sounds like rather a contrived situation, but Jacpbs approaches it in a realistic and keenly observed manner. The call to return to adolescence is indeed a hard one to resist – one that is not helped nowadays by the easy availability of memories and nostalgia for view and for sale on the Internet. Caught up in the adolescent world that is evoked by the mementos and memorabilia in his room, old song lyrics nostalgically bringing to mind an old girlfriend, even Mikey’s behaviour starts to exhibit adolescent characteristics – procrastination, sullen uncommunicativeness, a selfish indifference to the needs of others, eventually resorting to lying to cover for his failings – something that he at least has the decency to feel a little bit guilty about. That all takes a fair amount of honesty and self-reflection to recognise those traits and characteristics, but it takes even greater filmmaking skill to not just make them drolly funny and amusing – which many of the incidents in the film certainly are – but to put them across in a way that makes the viewer to some degree sympathetic and understanding of Mikey’s condition.
Mikey may indeed be a parent himself, but there is still a major gulf between how his generation views the world and how his parents deal with it. It’s a situation that most males will readily identify with and most females will recognise all too clearly in the behaviour of their partners. The danger, as it has been traditionally viewed by characters in mumblecore films, is ending up in some limbo state. In one scene, Mikey himself feels the problem acutely and with some degree of embarrassment, identifying with some youths who ask him to buy some beer for them, but unable to fit in with them. Variations of the same kind of problem are played out with old friends he encounters and, of course, in his relationship with his parents. Even that however could feel clichéd, a subject done many times and often as an absurd comedy of regression to childhood. There is however a degree of sadness in this situation that Jacobs touches on and Matt Boren plays to perfection, showing Mikey’s decline into a mild depression and agoraphobia that feels utterly real.
Much of the reason for the success of the film then is down to the choices made by the filmmaker. Jacobs chooses not to play himself in the film, not identifying completely with Mikey’s predicament, but he does use his own parents, Flo and Ken Jacobs – artists and filmmakers themselves, and inspiration to Azazel in his own career – and uses their marvellous New York Tribeca apartment, creating in the process a location with the genuine womb-like feel, real in a way that a manufactured set could never create. Using these familiar elements, but keeping a necessary observational distance, Momma’s Man is genuine, warm, heartfelt and personal film that reaches deep inside, and consequently has a lot more to offer the viewer. It also proves that Azazel Jacobs has a lot more to offer as a filmmaker.
Momma’s Man is released in the UK by Diffusion Pictures. The DVD is in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
Shot on 16mm and consisting of mostly interiors, Momma’s Man on DVD inevitably has a grungy, grainy lo-fi feel that is in keeping with the indie aesthetic. The grain is handled well however, the colouration strong, the image comfortably soft with no edge-enhancement whatsoever. Certainly it’s difficult to make out anything much in one or two of the darker interior shots, but that is much as it is meant to be, authentic to the lighting of the setting and not artificially lit, which is essential for the overall tone of the film. Anamorphically enhanced at a ratio of 1.85:1, progressively encoded and on a dual-layer disc with no real marks other than one or two small flecks that look like they are there on the negative, the film has clearly been given the best possible presentation here.
The film’s soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, which is more than adequate for the limited demands of the mostly dialogue based film. The sound is clear with good stereo separation and naturalistic, which means that it can be a little low in places.
There are no subtitles or hard-of-hearing captions.
An Interview with Azazel Jacob (8:33) covers the background and personal involvement of the director well, explaining the reasons for his choices and for keeping it close to home. The film’s Trailer (2:07) is also included.
Momma’s Man is a delightful, entertaining, funny, warm and heartfelt film that presents an interesting spin on the familiar indie film issue of arrested adolescence, but takes it a stage further, examining how strong the lure of the past can be when adult responsibilities get on top of us. In his third feature Azazel Jacobs also demonstrates that he’s able to resist the temptation to rely on the success of his past endeavours and continue to move forward, developing as a filmmaker who is able to deal with personal material and present it in an attractive and meaningful manner to a wider audience. Diffusion Pictures give the film the best possible presentation on DVD and supplement this fine film with an informative interview with the director.