The Black Hole of the Camera

Me And You and Memento and Fargo


Best Independent Films of 2010

I’ve posted my “best film” list for the past three years now in February rather than December like other critics and bloggers. The reason is simple. Because I’m based in the Midwest, I always want to be sure I’ve seen all the major indie films that might be worthy of consideration. As I keep complaining, despite my best efforts, that’s not an easy task these days. So it takes me a bit longer to catch up with all the films I want to see. That said, as it turns out, I could have posted this earlier because none of the additional films I watched ended up making the list.

Some “best film” lists have strict rules. One blog limits indie films to budgets of under $1 million. The budgets on my list vary a great deal, but most of them (with the exception of Life During Wartime, Greenberg and Winter’s Bone) are pretty miniscule. On the other hand, there are many films made for a pittance that I wouldn’t consider independent – they’re really industry calling cards. I have little personal interest in such films. Another list insists that a film play at least three times. That might work in New York City, but here we’re often lucky if a film like Manoel de Oliveira’s The Strange Case of Angelica plays even once. It did in January at our Cinematheque, and I was grateful for an opportunity to see it. To my great surprise, Trash Humpers played for a week. The two other people at the screening I attended left after ten minutes. At least people had a chance to see the film, but that’s often not the case, which continues to be the major problem for alternative cinema.

I liked quite a number of international art films this year: Fish Tank, Everyone Else, Mother, White Material and The Strange Case of Angelica, among others. But again the focus of this blog is American indie cinema, not because of chauvinism, but because that happens to be my main research interest. There are plenty of other Web Sites out there that cover other types of films.

My list surprised even me this time around, which I guess is part of the fun of the exercise. For the record, I’ve seen every film at least twice. In fact, I never write about a film on the basis of a single viewing. No film seemed to benefit more from a second look than Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. Trash Humpers, while a polarizing film for audiences, also resonated more on a second viewing. Less than half of the films on the list had brief commercial runs in town (Madison, Wisconsin). Three of them played at the Wisconsin Film Festival.

I saw some excellent films and videos in art galleries and museums in NYC this year. Standouts include: Ryan McNamara’s dance piece, I Thought It Was You, Tommy Hartung’s stop-motion animation The Ascent of Man, and works by Kalup Linzy, Dani Leventhal (all seen at Greater New York at PS 1). I also admired Mika Rottenberg’s Squeeze at Mary Boone in conjunction with Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery.

In any event, here is my personal list of the best indie films of 2010:

(Click on the titles below for extended commentary).

  1. Daddy Longlegs (Josh and Benny Safdie)
  2. Greenberg (Noah Baumbach)
  3. Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)
  4. Face (Andy Warhol)
  5. Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz)
  6. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (Damien Chazelle)
  7. Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham)
  8. Trash Humpers (Harmony Korine)
  9. The Exploding Girl (Bradley Rust Gray)
  10. Prince of Broadway (Sean Baker)

There were many extraordinary film performances this year: Greta Gerwig (Greenberg), Zoe Kazan (The Exploding Girl) , Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), and Ronnie Bronstein (Daddy Longlegs).

For purposes of comparison, you might want to check out my lists of “Best Indie Films of 2009,” as well as the “Best Indie Films of 2008.”

Posted 23 February, 2011

Prince of Broadway

Sean Baker has to be one of the most underrated young American indie filmmakers working today. After Four Letter Words (2000), he reinvented himself with two stellar features, namely Take Out (2004), which took years to screen theatrically, and Prince of Broadway (2010), which actually came out a couple of years ago. It played at the 2009 Wisconsin Film Festival, but only had its theatrical opening last September. Both Take Out and Prince of Broadway vied for the 2009 John Cassavetes Award (films made under $500,000). The double nomination probably hurt Baker’s chances of winning by splitting the votes he received.

A documentary-like look at an illegal immigrant Chinese delivery person in New York City, Take Out was shot in an actual Upper West Side restaurant during business hours, featured lots of b-roll shots, and interspersed actual orders with Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou’s fictional story. An added bonus was the candid responses of the various customers (solicited via Craigslist) to the home delivery person, Ming Ding (Charles Jang). Despite his desperate need to pay off pressing debts to loan sharks, Ming is much too shy and proud to play up to the customers in order to get bigger tips.

Prince of Broadway shares the same gritty realism as the previous film in telling the story of immigrants who sell counterfeit goods on the streets of New York City. One is a fast-talking West African hustler named Lucky (Prince Adu). The other is his boss, Levon (Karren Karagulian), a middle-aged Armenian from Lebanon, whose bare clothing store serves as a front for a secret back room full of luxury-brand knockoffs – from Gucci to Vuitton. Levon has married an attractive young woman in order to get a green card. Although he yearns for the relationship to be much more, it’s already on the skids.

The film’s catalyst occurs roughly twelve minutes into the film, when Lucky’s Latina ex-girlfriend, Linda (Kat Sanchez), dumps off a baby (Aiden Noesi), claiming that he’s the father. She tells him: “Be a man for once.” Linda indicates that it will only be temporary, but it soon becomes clear that the baby is interfering with a relationship she’s developed with a new boyfriend – a muscle-bound, jealous thug, who beats up Lucky when he chases after Linda. “I have no papers,” Lucky later pleads to her mother, “what can I do with this baby, please?”

Even though he’s an adult, Lucky is emotionally a child. When he gets the baby home, he lays down the law, telling him not to mess with his porno collection or his weed before breaking into tears. The eighteen-month-old baby, whom he eventually names Prince, is adorable, but Lucky only sees him as a burden. He complains constantly about his plight, not only to the uncomprehending toddler, but to anyone else who will listen. Most of his friends feel he’s being duped – the baby looks too light-skinned to be his kid. Prince also throws a wrench into Lucky’s relationship with his current girlfriend, Karina (Keyali Mayaga), who wants him to get an education. Like Take Out, Prince of Broadway has a ticking clock, in this case a DNA test to prove paternity, but Baker is careful not to use it in a heavy-handed way.

Not only does the film focus on the bond that slowly develops between Lucky and Prince, but it also centers on Lucky’s relationship with Levon, who serves as a father figure, even though he’s hardly the ideal role model. Levon asks him, “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?” He gives Lucky money and instructions on how to hold the baby properly. He puts the baby’s hat on and tells Lucky, “Hold the kid, man. You’re going to drop the kid!” When Lucky doesn’t listen, he shouts, “Are you fucking kidding me? Hold the kid!” There have been a number of recent films that deal with the issue of fatherhood: Josh and Benny Safdie’s Daddy Longlegs, Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right, and Life During Wartime. Prince of Broadway also has echoes of Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo, which also explored the experience of new immigrants in this country.

Baker likes to confuse and blend documentary and fiction. His films have a raw power that’s makes it seem as if he’s stuck his camera into real-life situations. The script is credited to Baker and his producer Darren Dean, but, as a final credit indicates, “the characters’ dialogue was realized through improvisation and a collaborative process with all actors.” As I keep writing about, many indie filmmakers have forsaken the well-written script in favor of structured improvisation. Baker, however, points out that there is often a stigma attached to working this way. He told an interviewer: “But [with Prince of Broadway] the improvised is simply the dialogue. Every scene had a beginning middle and end. It was just the dialogue. Some people think you are not doing your work if you don’t have the full fleshed out script.”

If the use of improvisation is becoming common in micro-budget indie films lately, the cutting in Baker’s films is quite unusual. In his excellent book The Way Hollywood Tells It, David Bordwell explores the concept of “intensified continuity” in depth and why the cutting of Hollywood films keeps getting faster. Indie films, especially naturalistic ones, have generally shared with art cinema a contrarian impulse – the story often unfolds in long, leisurely takes. Yet Baker fractures the space and time of his film through the use of manic cutting. An editor by profession, Baker’s impulse is to cut continually, which gives his film an exciting kinetic energy.

As a result, Prince of Broadway never feels boring. In exploring the subculture of those engaged in the underground economy, Baker provides an exciting glimpse into the lives of largely invisible characters who live on the margins.

Posted 18 February, 2011

Goodbye Solo

The location of Ramin Bahrani’s third feature Goodbye Solo (2009) has shifted from New York City – the setting for his first two films Man Push Cart (2005) and Chop Shop (2008) – to his home town of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. While the film clearly references Abbas Kiarostami’s A Taste of Cherry (1997), it actually reminds me of Robinson Devor’s Police Beat (2005), which was set in Seattle and co-written with the African writer Charles Mudede. In a similar vein, Goodbye Solo is about a clash of cultures, as a very outgoing Senegalese cab driver named Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) – like Z, the Senegalese bicycle cop in Devor’s film – attempts to navigate unfamiliar personal terrain in trying to adapt to the mores of a new country.

In making a distinctly regional film, Bahrani shows us not only the downtown dominated by César Pelli’s famous skyscraper (which looks gorgeous at night), but Winston-Salem’s more seamy underside. In other words, we see the city from the perspective of an immigrant, which was also true of Man Push Cart. Shot in a continuous take, the opening scene of Goodbye Solo provides the film’s setup. One’s of Solo’s passengers, a cranky old white Southerner named William (Red West), wants Solo to drop him off on Blowing Mountain two hours away on a specific date. For his trouble, William offers to pay him a thousand dollars – no questions asked. But Solo is inquisitive by nature. As he tries to joke with William, the man’s true intentions suddenly dawn on him.

Buried underneath the story of these two contrasting characters, lies a kind of film noir mystery with a ticking clock, in which Solo gets thrust into the role of an unlikely detective. Solo tries to befriend the hard-nosed William. He badgers William with myriad questions and invades his privacy in ways that only a naïve outsider might be bold enough to attempt. Solo invites William home after a night of drinking, and later turns up to crash at his motel room. The cab driver gets information about him through a bartender friend, checks William’s medication at the pharmacy, and rummages through his belongings in an attempt to unravel the secret that lurks behind the man’s desperate action.

Whereas Solo is warm, open and buoyantly optimistic despite every reason not to be, William is cold, closed, and an utter pessimist. He continually demands that Solo stay out of his life, even as the two develop some type of relationship or accommodation. Just as Z in Police Beat can’t understand the behavior of Rachel, the woman with whom he’s infatuated, Solo is likewise baffled by William’s actions. Z also cannot understand why the prostitute, Mary, would give up her kid to social services rather than to family. Solo criticizes the fact that families don’t stay together in America. Solo explains to William that in Senegal your family will always provide for you. Even if you don’t have teeth, he tells him, people will feed you the food. William replies coldly, “Why aren’t you there now?”

Solo learns that William at one time drove a Harley, has a tattoo, and has returned to town after thirty years. Solo also knows that he loves movies, which is where he takes him on the night when William proposes the deal. Solo’s preoccupation with William becomes an obsessive fixation, especially as the date draws nearer. Solo’s concerns about William overshadow those in his own life, which appears to be falling apart. Solo separates from his Mexican wife Quiera (Carmen Leyva) and stepdaughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo), even though Quiera’s due to have his baby. He also dreams of being a flight attendant, which is part of the conflict with Quiera, along with the fact that he hangs out with friends and hasn’t fixed up the taxi that sits idly outside their house.

For Solo, William represents the mystery of American culture, where family roots have been severed and individualism has replaced a sense of community. Indeed, Solo’s relentless pursuit of William becomes a form of projection – a way to avoid his own problems by trying to solve those of someone else. For all his talk about family values, Solo seems less troubled by the fact that his own family is actually splitting apart. Solo’s multicultural marriage represents a mini-drama within the larger one he’s facing in being an African immigrant trying to assimilate into a southern American city.

At William’s motel, Solo confesses to William that he misses his wife and Alex. Solo manages to keep in touch with Alex once she gets a cell phone. He marvels when she takes his picture in front of a hot dog place and later sends it to him via his cell phone. Neither Solo nor William can fathom how such a thing is possible. The screenplay, co-written by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi (who also co-wrote Chop Shop), is extremely subtle and deceptively complex. It is only very late in the film that we come to understand the parallels between these two men, and why Solo cares so deeply about what happens to William.

Bahrani’s direction in Goodbye Solo is remarkably self-assured. He’s attuned to the faces of performers – basically nonprofessionals and a character actor (West) thrust into a major role. Red West’s owl-like features – mussed hair, overly baggy inset eyes, and wrinkled countenance – serve as a roadmap of his past life. Bahrani’s camera holds on the expression of his actors just long enough to convey the depth of their emotions. In a climactic scene, Bahrani uses a series of reaction shots between William and Solo who simply stare at each other – he smartly understands that words would be extraneous here. Many directors have made impressive debut features, only to begin a downward slide in subsequent works, but the 34-year-old Bahrani appears to be getting better and better with each film.

In Goodbye Solo, Bahrani’s visual style seems almost effortless. On Blowing Mountain, the sound of wind intensifies to a roar. Along with Solo, we too feel as if we’re standing on a mountain top, overlooking a breathtaking landscape shrouded in mist, which gave me a sense of vertigo. The image conjures up the famous German Romantic painting by Caspar David Friedrich, “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.” Bahrani’s allusion is richly evocative – personally, politically, philosophically, and metaphorically – as Solo ponders the events that have transpired, as well as his own fate, within the broader context of the natural world.

Posted 5 August, 2009

Treeless Mountain

Set in Korea, So Yong Kim’s American indie Treeless Mountain (2009) tells the story of two young girls – seven-year-old Jin (Hee Yeon Kim) and her younger sister Bin (Song Hee Kim) – who are abandoned by their single mother (Soo Ah Lee). It’s initially supposed to be only temporary while she seeks to track down her deadbeat husband Kang, but the kids wind up getting shuffled off to live with Kang’s sister Big Aunt (Mi Hyang Kim) and then later to their maternal grandparents on a farm.

Stylistically, Treeless Mountain is shot more like a poetic documentary than a fictional film. Kim chooses not to linger too long on the emotional resonances of individual scenes. Instead, the superb hand-held camera work (by Anne Misawa) and editing fracture the narrative into episodic incidents, abruptly cutting from one detail to the next – more like an experimental film. And with nonprofessional child actors, perhaps that’s the best way to capture this type of story.

Jin’s face becomes a barometer of the hurt and pain of what’s happening to the children. When Big Aunt reads a letter from the mother, explaining she can no longer afford to care for the children and they must go to live with their grandparents, the camera focuses on Jin, who in a tearful outburst accuses the aunt of lying and trying to get rid of them. Poor Bin, who wanders through the film in a blue princess dress with fur trim – like a sad refugee from a once-festive party – is merely bewildered. We later realize that her dress represents an attempt to hold onto the memory of her mother, who bought the outfit for her.

The camera usually sticks very close to Jin and Bin, which has the Brakhage-like effect of presenting much of what happens from a child’s perspective. As a result, Treeless Mountain – more than any other recent narrative I can think of – manages to replicate what it’s like to experience the world as a child, not only visually, but with the partial comprehension of unfolding events that marks childhood. Jin unconsciously senses the vulnerability of her situation – the mysterious person who comes to the door and interrupts dinner – causing her anxiety to become manifest by wetting the bed. Her mother is actually very understanding when it occurs. Later, at Big Aunt’s house, Jin lets Bin take the blame when she has another night-time accident. Her aunt is not nearly as compassionate.

Although Big Aunt isn’t outright cruel, she turns out to be a poor parental surrogate. She extorts money from a neighbor over a supposed injury to Bin. Big Aunt eats and drinks at a café, but doesn’t want to spend money on the girls, whom she insists can eat at home. Big Aunt is often too drunk or hung over to feed the two hungry children. Yet when she abandons them at their grandparents, Jin and Bin still instinctively chase after her and wave goodbye frantically. (Bin later tells Jin that she misses not only her mother and father, but Big Aunt as well.)

The dynamic between the two sisters is very much at the heart of the film. When the mother arrives home the first night, she scolds Jin for being late in picking up Bin from the babysitter. Before the mother leaves the girls with Big Aunt, she tells Jin, “Take care of Bin for me. I believe in you, Jin.” It’s no wonder that Jin resents the responsibility of always having to watch over Bin, which is why she lets her little sister wander off by herself, refuses to play with her after their mom leaves, sets her up to take the blame for bedwetting at Big Aunt’s house, tries to ditch her as they walk up a street, and calls her “stupid” when Bin still asks about the mother as they’re on route to live with their grandparents.

To Jin, Bin has become an unwanted appendage, but they only have each other – that is the bond that inextricably ties them together, no matter what. And there are indeed moments of genuine warmth between the sisters. When they sing songs about grasshoppers with great exuberance, they momentarily seem to forget their sad situation. Jin also comforts Bin the one time she cries over their mother, protectively holds her hand as they cross a busy street, and even tutors her with reading at the farm.

The film begins with Jin learning how to tell time at school. But the irresponsible Big Aunt never bothers to re-enroll her in school – leaving the children to wander around the streets of the city. The passage of time becomes a central element in the story. Their mother gives the two girls a large red piggy bank and insists that she’ll return once it’s full of coins. Jin and Bin attempt to make money hawking fried grasshoppers to school kids in order to feed their plastic piggy. After Bin shakes out a coin to buy a sweet bun and gets smaller change, the two realize that they can speed up time by exchanging larger denomination coins for many more smaller ones. From a huge mound of dirt and rubble – the treeless mountain of the title and the image that apparently served as the film’s inspiration – Jin and Bin wait in vain for their mother’s return on the bus.

Once Big Aunt dumps them on their grandparents, she and the grandfather get into a loud argument. The grandpa doesn’t even try to hide it from the girls that they’re not wanted. But the grandma (Boon Tak Park), who has a wonderfully wizened face and wears a blue towel fashioned into a hat, turns out to be totally accepting of Jin and Bin, and the girls return her kindness in their own touching way. The pace of life on the farm feels slower, the tone shifts slightly, the colors become golden, and the film ends with a wide shot of Jin and Bin as they sing and walk through a overgrown field.

Instead of the conventional way of breaking down the story into individual shots, Kim (who studied painting, performance, and video at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) uses individual shots to build her story. She uses wider landscape shots as temporal transitions, but also to comment on events. When Jin and Bin are told by Big Aunt that their mom isn’t returning, dark clouds obscure the sun. Yet Treeless Mountain is infused with such pure poetry that images never feel overtly metaphorical or symbolic, nor does Kim resort to using music to underscore the feelings of her characters.

What’s especially notable about Treeless Mountain is the precision of So Yong Kim’s spare visual style and understated narration. And if the emotional impact of the film feels like a dagger has been thrust into your heart, Kim does it with such skill and artistry that she doesn’t leave any trace of an incision.

Treeless Mountain screened at the 2009 Wisconsin Film Festival. It will be released on DVD in this country on September 15 by Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Posted 18 July, 2009

Momma’s Man

Azazel Jacobs’s low-budget second feature Momma’s Man (2008) serves as yet another example of an independent film that deliberately blurs the line between non-fiction and fiction as an alternative narrative strategy (see previous post). The thirty-something protagonist is roughly the writer/director’s age. Jacobs sets the film in the lower-Manhattan loft in which he grew up, casts his own parents – noted avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs and painter Flo Jacobs – in the role of parents, and his best friend from high school as, well, his best friend. And a flashback to childhood depicts footage of the film’s director rather than lead actor. It’s difficult not to get lost in the autobiographical hall of mirrors Jacobs creates. That Momma’s Man, as Voice critic J. Hoberman suggests, at times slips into something that feels like a psychodrama turns out to be part of the power and fascination of the film

Momma’s Man tells the story of Mikey (Matt Boren), who on a business trip to New York City during which he visits his folks, finds himself unable to leave. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but Mikey has a job and a wife and infant back in Los Angeles. Mikey’s flight gets overbooked and he has to take another one the next day – but the situation rapidly transforms into something more vexing. Jacobs never makes it clear what is going on with Mikey. Is it nostalgia for his happy childhood? Has Mikey made a double mistake in marrying and having a child? Does he regret relocating to the West Coast? Does it suddenly dawn on him that his parents are growing old? Is his wife having an affair? Is Mikey having a nervous breakdown? For some critics and viewers, Jacobs’s use of buried motivation poses a problem. They want Mikey to be explained, but Jacobs wisely opts for ambiguity.

Rather than being goal-driven, as manual writers would insist, Mikey is a passive protagonist. His conflict is internal. Part of the pleasure of Momma’s Man is watching Mikey’s behavior for clues or hints about what might be going on inside him, and Jacobs provides just enough of them to keep us guessing. Mikey’s parents are perplexed. His father seems caring, but aloof. His mother dotes on him in a very smothering way. Her desire to offer him something to eat or drink becomes an irritating mantra (it’s no wonder he’s overweight). Most people would run for their lives – I’m speaking of myself here – but Mikey regresses. He hangs around the loft in his longjohns and watches a movie on television, while lying in bed with his parents. He rummages through old scrapbooks and love letters. He plays the guitar and sings lyrics he’s written in high school so loudly that his father has to tell him to turn the music down.

Mikey begins to embellish his situation. He’s not being malicious, so much as irresponsible. He lies to his wife Laura (Dana Varon) and even to his parents when he implies that Laura might be having an affair. We do see her visited by a neighbor named Tom (Richard Edson from Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise), but there’s no clear evidence that anything is going on. The film begins with a closeup on the clasped hands of Mikey and his mom. He asks, “You sure everything is okay?” She answers, “Of course.” Her initial note to him alludes to a doctor’s appointment. Mikey later tells his co-worker his mother’s been in the hospital as an excuse for missing work. Is she, in fact, ill? There’s no further indication of this either.

As the film progresses, Mikey develops agoraphobia – he’s unable to walk down the hallway stairs of the loft. There’s a sense that Manhattan has receded or disappeared, only to be replaced by his family’s claustrophobic loft – chock full of stuff – made dark and more womb-like by Tobias Datum’s cinematography. When his parents indicate they’re going for dinner in Chinatown, Mikey’s immobility prevents him from joining them. As he attempts to shave, he covers his entire face with lather and stares into the mirror. In an effort to get beyond the threshold of the loft, he gets drunk and crawls on all fours. During the night, he literally hurls himself down the stairs, which succeeds in breaking the spell.

Mikey seeks out an ex-girlfriend named Bridget (Eleanor Hutchins) after finding an angry letter from when they were in high school. Does he have lingering romantic feelings? When they meet at a coffee shop, Bridget brings along her young child in a stroller. It’s an awkward get-together. She asks, “So, what’s up?” Mikey refers to the letter and apologizes. Bridget appears bewildered. She’s obviously forgotten whatever pain he caused her. When Bridget asks about him, Mikey shows her photos of his wife and daughter, Anna. After she returns them, he stares pensively at the one of Anna. If Bridget is no longer the same person, Mikey’s friend Dante (Piero Arcilesi) – obsessed with boxing tapes and the Indigo Girls – also seems to have morphed into someone else. After Dante has a drug relapse, Mikey observes him with bemused detachment as his old pal manically works out and sings “Closer to Fine” off-key.

The fact that things change seems to be at the root of Mikey’s problem. He wants to stop time, or go backwards. He clings to the past – to earlier memories. Matt Boren plays Mikey with a quizzical look that fits his character perfectly. There’s a scene toward the end where his mother gets him to sit on her lap like an overgrown baby, dwarfing her in size. The image serves as an apt metaphor. He’s not a momma’s boy, but a grown man – stuck in a state of arrested development. As he snuggles and cries and his mother comforts him, she recalls a sweet image of her actual son, Azazel, as a child – fast asleep on a plate of spaghetti. In the old home-movie footage (from Ken Jacobs’s epic Star Spangled to Death), she lovingly lifts up Azazel and places him in bed. The next morning, Mikey listens to his phone messages and calls Laura.

Very little happens in Momma’s Man. Jacobs avoids the causality of classical narration. Much of what occurs within the family dynamic involves subtext – the things that remain largely unspoken. At one point his father demonstrates a mechanical windup toy – a headless crawling baby. The parents do try to intervene. In a family conference, his father confronts him, but Mikey becomes defensive and snaps, “Are you asking me to leave?” His mother inquires about Laura, “Is there someone else?” As Mikey begins to cry, his father presses him, but his mother insists, “It’s all right. You can stay here as long as you want.” His father later overhears a despondent message from Laura on the answering machine and watches Mikey erase it. Later, as Mikey starts to discuss Laura seeing someone, his father responds, “Can you recall us once lying to you?”

In Momma’s Man, Jacobs employs an episodic structure in which the dramatic and character arcs have been flattened. Just as mysteriously as Mikey falls into a personal crisis, his funk lifts by the film’s end (though I’m sure there will be consequences once he gets back to Los Angeles). I suspect some female viewers will find Mikey’s self-absorption to be a problem – for obvious reasons. But it’s Jacobs’s willingness to explore these issues so honestly that makes Momma’s Man such an absorbing and distinctive character study.

Momma’s Man played at the Wisconsin Film Festival back in April. It’s now available on DVD from Kino Video.

Posted 5 July, 2009

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