Men from Oklahoma talk about their mothers in this documentary film.
Irish director Ken Wardrop released his feature debut His & Hers back in 2010. It was an utterly charming documentary which presented women from infancy to old age and their unique perspectives on life. And it’s pretty wonderful.
It’s also a tough act to follow, which neatly brings us to Wardrop’s second feature documentary- Mom and Me.
This time the setup takes us to the ‘manliest State in America’ and to a host of men who called into Joe Cristiano’s radio show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Those calls are translated into interviews and meetings with a selection of these men and the very important mothers in their lives.
The connections with His & Hers are pretty clear here as Wardrop finds another way to interrogate his relationship with his own mother through the lens of a collection of different faces and voices.
And there’s some good material to be found, brought to life by the meeting of mother and son on screen and the intimate closeness found between most of these pairings. Wardrop has a talent for making his subjects feel supremely comfortable, and teasing out gentle moments of comedy and more tender emotions during the film's brief 77 minute running time.
There’s no denying that this is a similar film in many ways, and also fundamentally less successful in its construction. There may have been a thesis in the director’s mind but it never feels concrete on screen, flitting from one subject to the next without any real through line.
Maybe there’s a cultural disconnection going on as well - Wardrop’s affinity for the rural climes of Ireland was seen in every frame of His & Hers, particularly the marvellous vignettes of these women at work or play or home. That personality is mostly missing here, bar a few cameos from pets.
The conceit is also a bit awkward- with the men recreating their original radio calls on camera but speaking into a phone. The contrivance is distancing for the audience, and makes it so much clearer how orchestrated the interviews were.
Still these are real people who can’t help but be surprising and occasionally delightful. There are frank discussions about life, glimpses at a future of memory loss and an ancient old lady cheating at chess and chirping happily in victory. These moments transcend the rest of the picture, and they’re as often entertaining as they are emotional.
Kate McCollough returns as cinematographer for some wonderful images that help to set the many scenes and the score is delightfully quirky, even while being very reminiscent of His & Hers.
Mom and Me is an interesting documentary which could have used a stronger thesis to link its many subjects together. Mostly it suffers by comparison to the marvellous His & Hers which is shares much DNA with. Perhaps it's time for Wardrop to try out some new subject matter.