Monday, March 21, 2016

Gaye Kirschenbaum's "mom outreach" movie opens in Florida: LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER!

Can you think of anyone in your own generation who doesn't (or didn't) have major problems reaching their parents on the important levels? Sure, there are exceptions, but almost everyone I know (including me) fills this bill. Yet here comes a middle-aged woman -- documentarian Gayle Kirschenbaum -- who determines to bridge the generation gap and actually does it, via the film under consideration here: LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER!  The result is a small movie miracle that, while providing family history, connections, problems and pain, shows us finally how connection can be made.

Ms Kirschenbaum, shown above -- and, yes, she's Jewish, so the "nose" problem (mom wants her to have it "fixed") crops up early on and never goes away -- seems to me to be a smart, attractive and determined woman who uses her old family "film footage" to give us much of the story of this immigrant Polish/Ukraine family and how it succeeded over generations here in the USA. At the very beginning of her movie Kirschenbaum tells us via an introductory crawl: "Most of this footage was taken for home video purposes and was never intended for an audience. Nevertheless, what follows is a story I was driven to tell."

Fair enough. What follows is a remarkably balanced -- between mother and daughter --  account of older lives lived in emotional shadow (that's mom, above), with the younger versions, thanks to everything from psychology to greater social interaction and freedom for children, coming into the light, and then helping to dispense that light onto its forebears.

Beginning with the idea that she was somehow born into the wrong family (don't many of us hold this same notion?), the filmmaker shows us her parents and grandparents (the latter, just above) and gives us enough history so that we can appreciate their struggles, wins and losses. Gayle's mother, especially, seems such a typical product of her constricted era, that when we hear Gayle's thoughts about her own upbringing, we can only cringe and mostly identify.

Mom, of course, doesn't want to know from any of this. As she is dragged from visual and verbal trips down memory lane into various kinds of therapy/counseling, her response to any question is usually "I don't know" or "I don't remember." For awhile, at least. The counselors are kind but probing, and her daughter is, too. And even as we viewers begin to piece together the past and how it has led to this present, so, slowly, does mom.

The journey was certainly longer and more fraught than the 84-minute movie that condenses it, but Kirschenbaum has done an excellent job of editing (along with Alex Keipper) her film and photographs and history into an unfurling whole. Consequently we see mom beginning to take in the idea that she was a product of her own family and its problems, just as her daughter was a generation later.

The movie is often amusing, too. Mom and daughter both thankfully manage to keep their sense of humor, which they need to get through all this. Because Kirschenbaum is a documentary filmmaker, she gets to travel a lot, and so, as the movie progresses, she takes mom with her. (That's the pair in Israel, below.)

We learn something of Kirschenbaum's own history and character, too: Avoiding intimacy, her major relationship seems to be with her pet dog. Initially, the film is filled with ideas of guilt and recrimination and attempts at forgiveness. Slowly, though, it turns into an ongoing journey of discovery on both sides of the generation gap, of seeing the past in a different light, and of beginning to experience life through another's eyes for a change.

That mom can finally allow herself to do this is pretty exceptional, I think. Initially she comes across as a something of a self-righteous monster; by film's end, she's exposed as the vulnerable woman who coped with life as best she could and is now learning new ways to cope more healthily.

Moms, grandmas and grandkids should flock to this movie -- hell, dads and sons ought to, as well, but, as usual, it will be harder to get the guys there (tell 'em it's an action movie!). Once word-of-mouth gets out, theaters will fill.

Look at Us Now, Mother, a small, honest film that achieves exactly what it sets out to do, opens this Friday, March 25, here in South Florida in Boca Raton (where Gayle's mom actually lives!) at the Regal Shadowood and the Living Room Theaters; in Delray Beach at The Movies of Delray; and at The Last Picture Show in Tamarac. Come April 8, it will open in New York City (at the Village East Cinema) and in Los Angeles at
Laemmle's Monica Film Center and Town Center 5. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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