"Momma's Man": Warm Moods

in 51st IndieLisboa - International Independent Film Festival

by Nika Bohinc

The first image we see in Azazel Jacobs’ Momma’s Man is of two hands clinging to each other. The next shot reveals that the two hands being united in this tight shake belong to a mother and her grown-up son, sitting at the family table. While the figure of the father, observing the scene from the side, appears in the background, we smile for the first time, and both the story and the atmosphere of the film are set.                

Momma’s Man’s main character Mikey (played by Matt Boren with a remarkably precise, unaffected style) is a likable 30-something whose business trip and a visit to his parents in New York ends up to be a helter-skelter mix of emotions: waking memories from the past and raising fears about the future — his life in California, where his wife and a new-born baby are waiting for him. His stay with his parents extends longer than anyone had expected, and evokes reminiscences of growing up that we all can remember: notebooks with angry love songs, old friends changing or staying as they were, over-attentive mums offering too much tea and soup and worrying about your clothes all the time while fathers silently move their eyebrows and speak in tiny pinching remarks. Just as we all can also remember the turning points of adulthood and pressing responsibilities… which sometimes do make us want to hide inside our childhood rooms.                

Mikey’s parents in the film are played by the director’s real parents, Ken and Flo Jacobs, acclaimed filmmakers in their own right. It’s possible to follow the film without knowing this background information (and most probably sympathize with Mikey, or envy him, for having such wacky artist parents!), but realizing it opens up new readings and reveals an interesting, fresh, even unseen approach to what could be called first person cinema, seamlessly intertwining fiction narrative with intimate experience. We watch the parents following the script, adjusting and reacting to Mikey’s character as if he was their grown-up son, while they try to continue to work and live in their home apartment where also the story of the film takes place. There is a fiction storyline, there are memories recreated and there are images of real family life, and the lines between them are evasive, loose. The only time we actually see the director is when a short clip from Ken Jacobs’ essay film Star Spangled To Death (Spaghetti Aza) is included in a flash-back sequence near the closing of the film.              

As director Azazel Jacobs tells, he began writing the film with his mind set on the main actor and more so as a tribute to his family’s home, a large one-space apartment in New York where his parents have lived for forty years; one of the most amazing ones you’ll ever be allowed to visit inside or outside the cinema. It’s a museum of arts and a home of imagination. While shooting, a rule not to move things and work a way around them instead was invented, and the result turns out in favour of the film, giving the viewer a feeling of what it’s like to be in that magical place.          

The cinema language of Momma’s Man is a profoundly simple one. Under that simplicity lies a warm humor, and it is circled in a whole by soft pillow shots of director’s bows to people and things close to him. There are moments when the camera slides over the walls of the apartment and its mysterious objects and touches them gently with subtle piano sound. There are bows to the cinema of Chaplin, Jarmusch, Buñuel… and the work of Ken and Flo Jacobs. And there are two images, standing next to each other. The first image with a camera on the lamp, covered with a long lace dress, the light is changing and creating a beautiful movement of shadows in the home of family Jacobs. The second image captures the faces of the parents looking at this scene, illuminated by the raising and fading light. One is staging beauty, the other is sharing it. Together they become one of the most extraordinary declarations of love in cinema.