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Momma's Man

September 5, 2008  |  2:40pm
Momma's Man
Speed Racer

Release Date: Aug. 22 (limited)

Director: Azazel Jacobs

Writer: Azazel Jacobs

Cinematographer: Tobias Datum

Starring: Matt Boren, Ken Jacobs, Flo Jacobs, Richard Edson, Piero Arcilesi

Studio/Run Time: Kino International, 94 mins.


After a summer full of movies that celebrate the arrested development of their male characters, that titter and wink while grown men behave like teenagers, Momma's Man is a welcome palette cleanser.

Mikey has a wife and baby in California, but when he visits his parents during a business trip to New York, he finds it hard to leave his old room. He rummages through old notebooks, plays his old guitar, visits old friends, and finds one reason after another to delay his return to California.


Writer-director Azazel Jacobs shot the film, his third feature, in his own childhood home, the densely packed Lower Manhattan loft where his parents, Ken and Flo Jacobs, have lived for almost 40 years. It's an amazing space. Any cordoned-off two-meter section of the apartment—any wall, nook or corner—could occupy a curious mind for days. The stacks of books, the mechanical toys, the chairs that presumably come down from the wall when guests arrive all hang in delicate balance. It looks less like a pile of clutter than an art installation.


Jacobs' father is, of course, the famous experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs, and somehow it comes as no surprise that his home is this detailed, meticulous and unwieldy. Momma's Man is a loving portrait not just of the space, but of Ken and Flo themselves. They're a tender presence; the longer Mikey stays, the more concerned they become. Clearly, something is wrong.


And this is where the film diverges from the attitude affected by The Wackness, or whatever movie Judd Apatow or Will Ferrell is releasing this week. Jacobs packs the film with his own fascinations and history (his room, his parents, his favorite cinematic flourishes, including references to Monsieur Verdoux and Stranger than Paradise), but his obvious affection for these yellowed pages from his diary don't overwhelm the larger concerns of life and family. And if the character is to grow, the detritus must eventually recede. It's Ken and Flo, not Mikey, who are the heart of the film; Mikey is the wandering soul that they accept and support and nudge toward a healthier life.


Momma's Man is a drama so still that its occasional humor or narrative thrust packs more punch than it might in a more conventional film. The movie meanders enough that we assume it may meander right into the closing credits, resolving nothing with its poignant cut to black. And there were times where I wished Mikey—and the film—would get on with things. But by the end, the seemingly formless movie has a form, a story, a brain and a heart. The camera burrows deeper into the apartment as time passes, and on this elegant scaffold hang moments of surprise and beauty. The marvelous last shot, which has stayed with me for some time, seems to span not only Mikey's life, but perhaps Jacobs' as well.


Watch the trailer for Momma's Man:


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