Tag Archives: mother-son relationships

Chef Flynn

Flynn McGarry, 15 in the documentary, has been “cheffing” since he was 10. I’m not talking about peanut butter toast, this kid is the real deal, sourcing ingredients most people wouldn’t recognize as food, preparing it in ambitious ways, plating it with finicky precision to detail. His mother Megan, once a film documentarian herself, has no shortage of home video of his meteoric rise to culinary stardom, and this film uses that footage liberally. We see him hosting a 12-course “supper club” for family friends in his home at age 13, with a kitchen full of children to do his bidding, and transitioning to professional pop-up restaurants in New York, with trained staff underneath him, just a few short years later.

Chef Flynn is replete with food porn sure to make foodies happy, but this documentary doesn’t exactly focus on the culinary side of things. Instead, director article-2269130-1733455C000005DC-923_634x422Cameron Yates focuses on the unusual relationship between mother and son. Meg McGarry allowed her son to drop out of school to focus on his passion. Now, nearing 16, he’s ready to move away to pursue his career. As a mother, we see helicoptering, permissiveness, indulgence, and an incredible amount of creative nurturing. But we also find a woman who has lost herself in her son’s shadow. Pursuant of her son’s great passions, she’s forgotten hers, and now that he’s ready to leave her behind, what will become of her?

Yates shows a little of the familial friction but that’s as far as he’s willing to go. This is otherwise about as thoughtful as any home video: with almost no input from outside the family, it’s hard to judge how good Flynn really is, or what place he has among top chefs. Plenty of pro chefs balk about even calling him a chef, but we never get to hear from the opposition. I think his talent and enthusiasm are in earnest, but the truth is, this is a privileged white kid whose parents indulged his whims and bought him his biggest dreams. His childhood bedroom housed more high-end appliances than my grown-up kitchen. He hasn’t paid any dues. He didn’t have to work for this. Chef Flynn is interesting, but it’s a one-sided story, all sweet with no salt, which any chef should know makes for a boring meal.


The Book of Henry

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is the smartest, most responsible 11 year old you’ll ever meet. He takes care of his little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) in the schoolyard and he takes care of his single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) financially. I mean, she’s got income, but he’s the financial planner. He even wants to take care of the girl next door who he thinks may be abused by her stepfather, Glenn (Dean Norris). Henry’s heart is as big as his IQ, and he challenges everyone around him to be their best, which can be a lot to live up to if you’re Henry’s little brother, or worse, his mother.

Anyway, Henry is a force of nature and he’s determined to do right by his next door the-book-of-henry1neighbour, Christina. She’s silent on the subject, but he’s seen the bruises and feels compelled to act, even if the adults in his life won’t. His moral compass is ginormous. It’s tricky, though, because Glenn is the police commissioner and may be too powerful to touch. Henry makes careful plans.

But what if an eleven year old boy can’t actually carry them out? His mother finds his notebook and is guilted, and perhaps guided by said compass, to act upon it.

This film was not well-received by critics but was for the most part enjoyed by audiences, including myself. It’s directed by Colin Trevorrow, kind of a departure since he’d previously directed Jurassic World, and is the co-writer of Star Wars: Episode IX. In its way, with its modest budget, The Book of Henry also bears the marks of Trevorrow’s childlike fascination. Henry may be precocious, but there’s a sense of wonder to the movie that’s quite appealing. But it’s also an ambitious movie; its shifts in tone startling at times, and perhaps not always successful.

The characters are inconsistently realistic and their actions even more so, but some terrific performances go a long way to grounding those characters. Naomi Watts is playing an imperfect but loving mother; I don’t know from where she draws inspiration, but she gives Susan a believable base, hard as that may be. Jacob Tremblay has a meatier role than just kid brother but he’s more than equal to the task. He’s already proven he’s more than just an adorable face. Jaeden Lieberher (you know him from St Vincent, and Midnight Special) as Henry has the hardest job of all. Henry is brilliant (he prefers precocious) but he is still a kid, after all, so he has to be steadfast, confident, but still vulnerable. This script asks a lot of its actors and in some ways the cast is what this movie gets most right.

The Book of Henry crosses genres, and that’s its weakness. There’s a silliness that sometimes dilutes the tension. I don’t mind a movie reaching beyond its limits, but this one doesn’t seem to have a firm destination in mind. What movie did you mean to be? I’m not sure. But I still enjoyed it on the whole, even while mentally noting all thing things I could have done better myself.


If you’ve ever seen the film Taken and thought: this is cool and all, but I wish Liam Neeson was a soccer mom. Or, if you’ve ever seen Tom Hardy in Locke and thought: I like movies about people driving, but couldn’t there also be a child’s life at stake? Well, stop yer yammering, I’ve got something really exciting for you. Mind you, Kidnap is only exciting for those very specific individuals who put their hands up earlier. For everyone else, this is a generic movie at best.

Halle Berry plays the soccer mom who takes her eyes off her son for just one itty bitty minute and POOF! – he disappears. Only his kidnappers are just barely proficient so Halle Berry actually sees her son being stuffed into the back of a stranger’s car, and like Kidnap-movie-Halle-Berryany angry mama bear she takes off on a parking lot tear, totally prepared to outrun the car if only she can, but of course she can’t. So she hops behind the wheel of her trusty mini van and the world’s slowest, most meandering, and good lord most repetitive chase begins.

Halle Berry doesn’t have her cell phone so her only means of contacting the outside world for help is to drive erratically and hope that a cop will notice that something’s amiss. She’s pretty sure that every other missing child just wasn’t loved enough by his or her parents so she’s going to break the mold by putting the law into her own hands, which are white-knuckled on the steering wheel for a good 80% of the movie.

Halle Berry is good, even when she’s spouting cringe-worthy lines from a tired, uninterested script, she’s nothing short of panicky, breathless, desperate.  Her character goes through quite an ordeal as you can imagine, but the film’s 84 minutes feel like an ordeal for the audience as well. We must endure hardships together. But since you have a choice, let me help you make the informed decision: Kidnap is derivative, predictable, and horribly cliched. The only positive thing I have to say is I was grateful not to find the story encumbered by secondary roles, subplots, or a character development. The movie stays true to its one-word title. And then they beat you over the head with it.


Watch Helen Hunt show her versatility by playing both The Mom and The Bitch in a single role! I’ve never been a big fan of Helen Hunt and this is not the movie to win me over. Her character is so shrill and cliched I feel a strong itch to break into a rant about the very narrow width of roles for women of a certain age in Hollywood, except here’s the awkward catch: Helen Hunt wrote it herself. She directs too. But this is not something I’d be very proud to put my name on.

Jackie (Hunt) is a New York book editor with an unhealthily codependent relationship ride_helenwith her son Angelo (Brenton Thwaites), an aspiring writer just out of high school. He’s not too keen on post-secondary education, and when he fucks off to California for the summer (where his dad lives, and the waves beckon), she irrationally follows. Is young Angelo happy to have his Mommy along on his big independent adventure? No he is not. So to prove how cool she is, Jackie takes up surfing. When stubbornness alone isn’t quite enough, she reluctantly takes lessons from Ian (Luke Wilson).

Ian is a chill dude, but can he help her remove the stick from her ass? And do we really need another movie about a woman who needs to be taught to unwind from a barely employed but somehow revered younger man? Fuck no. Like Hunt or dislike her as an actor, she clearly isn’t very mature as a writer. Her script is obvious and creaky. And she’s pretty uninspired as a director, taking too long to develop any sympathy for the lead character (ie, herself). And don’t get me started on the missing irony of a book editor and a writer griping and agonizing over endings, when the film in fact has none.

Ride is a crummy movie, but it might have limited use as an instructional video for middle-aged surf noobs.

SXSW: Dara Ju

Seyi has a good life: he’s handsome, Harvard-educated, has a great job on Wall Street, and a budding new relationship. You might assume that this Nigerian immigrant is living the American Dream, but things are actually much more complicated than that. His family places heavy demands on his time, his money, his emotional well-being. His mother guilts him with “Family sticks together” while holding her hand out. So he lies about his family to his new girlfriend, who suspects something’s up and doesn’t appreciate his reticence. Wall Street comes with enormous pressure to achieve, and snorting drugs turns out to not be enough in terms of keeping up, so Seyi eyes up some more nefarious options. And then there’s, you know, racism in the air, because it doesn’t pass you by just because you wear a fancy suit to work. Safe to say his plate’s heaped really high and nothing is turning out the way he thought. Ooof.

MV5BYWUxZGVkYTgtNWUxNi00Y2ZjLTk2NDctYTYwN2RmYTczNjdkL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDY5NzA2Ng@@._V1_Aml Ameen is enormously good as Seyi. Not all of the cast is as strong as this, but I also really enjoyed Michael Hyatt, who plays his mother. There is dysfunction, drama, and heartbreak between the two and I could have watched a whole movie just about their dynamic. In fact, this movie would be improved had it narrowed its focus just a little. Seyi’s burdens are great but they result in a lot of sub-plots that aren’t well-served in a 90 minute run time. That said, I can’t believe this is writer-director Anthony Onah’s first feature film. He’s already got a polished style that belies a lot of talent. Onah is also a Nigerian-born Harvard grad, so his script is informed if a little busy.

Onah explained that Dara Ju means “Better”, and is meant as a nod to the immigrant’s aspirations. Certainly this dichotomy between ambition and obligation is what’s most interesting about Dara Ju. As much as Seyi embraces his American life, his family will always tie him back to the homeland. This is a fascinating look at the immigrant experience and it’s a bold first work from a soon to be famous director.

Short Film: Where You Are

A young mother continually loses her son to time and to space. It sounds like sci-fi but it’s actually a bittersweet testament to childhood flying by. Each moment, each stage is gone so quickly, and we see it all through this woman’s parental panic as she literally grasps for her son. It’s parenthood in an emotional 12 minute chunk: a reminder to stay in the moment, to cherish time, to be present.

Written and directed by Graham Parkes, Where You Are stars the astonishing Sarah Burns, who you may know from EVERYWHERE. She got her start playing Barney (yes, THE Barney), believe it or not, but has since appeared in nearly everything – including Grandma and Slow Learners more recently. Parkes uses long, uninterrupted takes to help draw us in to Burns’s increasing urgency and bafflement. Feel free to watch the film if you’ve got 12 minutes to spare (and your kids are in bed) and let us know – can you relate?




Frank and Cindy

When GJ returns home from school, his mother, Cindy, has a surprise for him: “I quit drinking!” An even bigger surprise than her 15 months of sobriety? She’s also spent all of his savings. So it turns out he’s home for good. Deprived of film school, he turns the camera on his fuck-up Mom and her has-been rock-star husband, Frank.

MV5BMTYyNTkwNjg4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzUyNTM1ODE@._V1_This film is actually a dramatic reenactment of a documentary of the same name, by G.J. Echternkamp. And his parents are undoubtedly larger than life, which in this case is a kind euphemism for colourfully pathetic, hopeless losers. Rene Russo and Oliver Platt play the titular characters and you’ve got to admire their abandon. They each give strong performances, and you’ve got to give props to Russo in particular for her willingness to throw herself into such an unflattering role.

When GJ has enough of their codependent craziness he seeks out his biological father for some commiseration but he surprisingly turns out to be in Frank’s corner. It’s way too easy for GJ to blame his struggles on his underachieving parents, but when that’s not getting him anywhere, what then?

Watching this film and reminding myself that Frank and Cindy are real people makes this a particularly excruciating experience. And to be honest, the screenwriters trying too hard 2015 Features-FrankAndCindy1to stick to the source material means this movie has no real backbone. It ambles but doesn’t amount to much. And weirdly, GJ seems to be the least developed character – it’s his story but he’s a pretty passive player. And that feels ironic since Echternkamp himself helped bring this script to life, and he’s also sitting in the director’s seat, although at times he seems to forget about the advantages of feature vs documentary – he could make the scenes look amazing yet seems to enjoy filming in dank little corners.

At any rate, this is clearly a personal film for Echternkamp. There’s catharsis happening here. And self-indulgence. Lots of that. But Russo and Platt are good, good enough to make up for the film making foibles.


Montreal in Film and Why Mommy is Better Than The Score

Mommy 2Well, I did it, Andrew from Fistful of Films. I watched Mommy. Andrew’s made no secret of his appreciation of this Cannes sensation- now I get the picture on his masthead- and after the film resurfaced during Thursday Movie Picks a couple of weeks ago, I vowed to finally give this a watch.

First, I’ll say that I liked Mommy better than The Score, the Robert De Niro-Edward Norton heist movie from 2001 that I watched the night before. Like Mommy, The Score is filmed and set in Montreal, where I spent the first twenty-four years of my life. I know the city well, well enough to know that Quebecers don’t sound like that. The accents and dialects (more French than Quebecois) aren’t a big deal and most non-Canadians may not even notice but they’re distracting for me. Mommy’s already off to a good start just by being a Canadian film with actual Canadians.

The actors in Mommy get more than just the Franglais right. As mother and son, Anne Dorval Mommyand Antoine-Olivier Pilon always manage to make their increasingly complicated feelings and relationship believable, if not always likeable. Both Die (Dorval) and Steve (Pilon) are immediately off-putting. We are warned from the beginning that Steve can be a lot to take but I was unprepared for foul-mouthed and deliberately provocative  style. Even Die, Steve’s long-suffering mother, is tough to take at first, presenting herself immediately as arrogant and confrontational through some pretty cocky gum-chewing.

I warmed to these characters quickly though. Die first. We quickly see how out of control- even dangerous- Steve is and I couldn’t help seeing her as a mother doing the best she can with an impossible situation. Steve has his charming- even sweet- side too. His feelings of guilt over ths burden he thinks he must be to his mother rise to a scene in a karaoke bar where he deliberately causes a scene in order to derail Die’s flirtation with a lawyer who she thinks can help with her son’s situation. The relationship between mother and son is unpredictable and at times a little strange but makes sense as we realize that they can’t help feeling that all they have is each other.

This relationship is written and acted to perfection even if Mommy isn’t. Dolan devotes way too much time to a stuttering former teacher who lives across the street without any real justification for doing so. I also could have done without the unusual 1.1 Aspect Ratio that is distracting at best and counter-productive during the more cinematic sequences that Dolan seems to love.

Have you seen Mommy? If you have, I would love to hear what you thought of the final scene.


Savage Grace

At this year’s Oscar ceremony, Julianne Moore took home the statuette for her work in Still Alice while Eddie Redmayne won best actor for The Theory of Everything – but did you know the two savagegrace1-1295283680were once co-stars in a twisted little mother-son movie that didn’t quite make it to Matt’s list, or, I’m guessing to anyone else’s.

Let me ask you a question, straight up: have you ever seen an incestuous threesome (with Hugh Dancy in the middle!), and if not, do you want to rectify that?

Answering yes to that question is probably the only reason you should ever watch Savage Grace.

I suppose the acting’s fine, or very fine, but the subject matter is stilted and nobody quite knows 3673_10_screenshotwhat to do with it. We’re talking about the real-life story of of Barbara Daly, who married above her station to Brooks Baekeland, the dashing heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune. They have exactly one child, a son, Tony, who becomes not just her son but also her replacement-husband. They become…close. Uncomfortably close, by anyon’e standards, ever. She tries to cure his homosexual tendencies by…unconventional means that are also illegal and immoral and explicitly forbidden in the Bible. Ahem.

This can’t possibly end well, can it?

Mother-Son Movies


I dedicate my submission to Wandering Through the Shelves’ Thursday Movie Picks this week to my own mom. She gave me life and unconditional love and, on Mother’s Day, I took her to brunch.

sixth sense

Toni Collette is no stranger to playing a mom with a lot on her plate but she’s never been in more over her head than in The Sixth Sense )1999)   Single mom Lynn Sear has no idea that her 10 year-old son can see dead people but she can tell that something not right with him. To me, her performance as a mother who just wants to help but doesn’t know how isthe best part of the movie and Haley Joel Osment’s scenes with her are far more believeable than his with Bruce willis. I expressed my enthusiasm for the final mother-son scene in the movie in 10 Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away.


Speaking of kids who see dead people, seven year-old Damian is frequently visited by dead saints in Millions (2004). There’s a whole lot going on in my personal favourite of Danny Boyle’s films but- for the purposes of our belated Mother’s Day- Damian’s obsessions with saints seems to come from the conviction that his recently deceased mother must be a saint now herself. The appearance of his newly-sainted mom at the end of the film is just plain beautiful.

squid and the whale

When his parents separate after 17 years of marraige, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) defends his father (Jeff Daniels) and rejects his mother (Laura Linney) in The Squid and the Whale (2005). Walt idolizes his father so much that he basically becomes his clone. When following in his father’s footsteps starts getting him into trouble and he starts seeing his dad’s true colours, he is surprised to find himself thinking of treasured memories of his mother from long ago- before he had chosen sides.