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Mom & Me, by the Irish director Ken Wardrop, revolves around men in Oklahoma – apparently the U.S’s ‘manliest’ state – and the relationships they share with their mothers. Despite coming from all walks of life (Army vets, barbers, lawyers, cowboy preachers, prisoners, etc.), these people are linked by one narrative device: they are all callers into a radio show, hosted by Tulsa media celebrity, Joe Cristiano. Cristiano’s show encourages men, on account of an impending Mother’s Day, to call in and discuss their relationships with their maternal figures.
The documentary is a touching and passionate meditation on the relationship between mothers and sons. Wardrop could have made a more probing documentary analyzing masculinity in Oklahoma, but instead, here the investigation is purely emotional as we see the universal bonds the subjects have with the women that gave birth to them.
That said, I am ambivalent about the central narrative hook of the radio show. Wardrop is described in many of the film’s reviews as a “creative documentarian”, someone who essentially makes documentaries but plays with the conventions of the genre (i.e. adding fictional elements) in order to put his points across more effectively or more strongly. I have no problem with this as I believe that all documentaries have an agenda, intentional or not. And I can see on paper why the radio show is utilized, as it links many disparate threads and themes. However, upon seeing it in action, it took me out of the film. It felt like something that would be used in a teen rom-com directed by Garry Marshall (Valentine’s Day, the recent Mother’s Day). Also, as we see the subjects at home listening to the radio show and then calling in, it reminded one how these scenes were staged and therefore fake, despite the fact that the emotions may be real.
It’s wrong to tell a director what he should have done, yet to me, the documentary could have been more convincing if Wardrop simply recorded Joe Cristiano (who is a very warm and kind presence) visiting these men and mothers, and then spliced the footage together, in order to create a greater sense of authenticity. When it drops the radio show device and we are given glimpses of the men who are forced to take care of their aging mothers (both subjects speak candidly with poignancy), that is when the film truly engages and tugs at the heartstrings
Verdict: Mom & Me is an undeniably sweet and emotional film, yet is hampered by a dodgy narrative hook.
Mom & Me is in cinemas from July 15th. Check out the trailer below.
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