The concept of a documentary doesn’t need to have depth, it just has to have legs. The brief Mom and Me is exactly as it sounds, and it’s all the better for it. Bereft of context or a wide thesis, it’s content to just be.
In a nebulous survey, Oklahoma was found to be the “manliest state in America”. A radio host, Joe Christiano, reflects on the fact that despite this manliness, Oklahomans sincerely love their mothers. Mom and Me follows several mother and son pairs as they sit and talk with one another, or as the sons call the radio show to talk about their mothers.
With the exception of the radio host, we aren’t given many clues as to the identities of these men and mothers. With no attempts made to give the audience insight into their careers — unless the individuals choose to mention them — or most other facts of their lives, we get a very specific experience: we find out exactly what their mothers mean to them. The subject selection is not entirely generic, and some pairs seem more intriguing than others, but the spectrum through which we perceive them is limited. It creates a simultaneously focused and frustrating finished work.
Mom and Me reads as a very directed documentary — in that each shot seems carefully rehearsed, and each set-up deliberately composed. There’s more artifice than a talking-head documentary, but the “acting” being carried out by the subjects reads as a more refined version of what might have happened had the camera merely pointed and shot. Irish director Ken Wardrop knows exactly how to put the piece together, albeit with some couples getting more screen time than others, and some seeming to disappear almost entirely. Using Cristiano to tie the film together initially seems like an odd choice of framing device, but even though his words don’t thematically guide the film’s progression, they work as a nice connective tissue and another example of a relationship — albeit one in which the mother has already passed on.
Mom and Me boasts a surprisingly dramatic ending, a note of harsh reality encroaching in the form of epilogue text. After receiving all of the answers of what constitutes the love of a son or a mother, we are presented with a mystery that neither time nor the internet may be able to provide. What we are left with is a 77-minute heartfelt confection that is both tailored specifically to each pair it represents and demonstrates the strains of universality, truly making Mom and Me hit home with audiences that have ever had any sort of maternal relationships.
Mom and Me screens at the Sydney Film Festival, 8-19 June 2016.
Directed by: Ken Wardrop.
Starring: Joe Christiano.