I really wanted to like this movie. First of all, I could listen to Angela Bassett read a phone book. Or not a phone book anymore, I guess. What’s the 21st Century equivalent of that? I could listen to Angela Bassett read an influencer’s instagram followers? Not quite the same ring to it. Anyway, it seemed like a good fit. Motherhood and friendship are two things I think about a lot and I care about a lot. And, just like these fictional women, I met some of my dearest friends by being thrown into the same playgroup. Sure, the trailer gave me pause, as did the 6.0 IMDB rating with a red zone Metacritic score, but this isn’t strictly a RomCom either, so I took a chance. 

We begin our tale with a very fit man completely naked except for a plastic water bottle poorly hiding his genitals and a proposal gone wrong.

Very Fit Naked Man
Not an unpromising start.

It’s confusing, but I’m game to continue. Then we sail up the Hudson to Poughkeepsie to see the men’s mothers (except the naked man’s) getting ready to celebrate Mother’s Day without their wayward sons. I get confused because I’m fairly certain one actor is playing two different husbands. Plot twist?! IMDB says that’s not the case.

The mothers lament the fact that their sons no longer need them as much as they once did. Isn’t this how parenthood works? Isn’t the goal to have independent children? And if you are ready to tell me that I can’t possibly understand what it’s like until my kids are grown, please know that I also disliked you when I was an utterly sleep-deprived parent of an infant and you told me to cherish every moment because they grow up so fast.  Angela Bassett (I cannot remember any of their character names and can’t be bothered to figure it out) says that motherhood is “that sinking feeling that you’re being broken up with on a gradual but daily basis.” I feel like there is a lot to unpack there, but I’m not going to, so onward we go to the mothers’ Bourbon-fueled decision to show up at their adult sons’ homes unannounced and stay until they feel like mothers again instead of others. This is such a bad idea and such a stretch that it makes the premise of How to Lose a Guy in 10  Days seem like a well thought out documentary. They pile into Patricia Arquette’s MaybeVolvo (literally trust nothing I say about car makes). It has a Persist. bumper sticker on the back, which I feel like is trying to justify their future actions. Like, We’re feminists and independent even if we are about to crash into our adult son’s lives like some poorly drawn caricature of overbearing mothers! Don’t worry, I’ll come back to the sticker.

Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 5.00.19 PM
Look, I was right! It is a Volvo!

Anyway, they go to New York, jauntily singing along the way, and show up completely unannounced on their sons’ doorsteps. (If you are shocked to hear it does not go well, I urge you to reconsider your life choices.) Patricia Arquette’s son won’t answer his phone and she wonders, while speaking into her iPhone, if he’s “using that caller ID thing” to avoid her. I then wonder if I’ve accidentally broken my own rule about no movies with time travel. She spends most of her story line schmearing on layers of guilt so thick that my great-grandmother—who for fifty years told people they should be nice to her because she could die at any minute—would have suggested she dial it back a bit, and complaining about a woman not being good enough for her son (who is, by the way, utterly forgettable). I can’t remember most of what happened with Felicity Huffman because I couldn’t bring myself to care that much about her character and because I was thinking about her recent real-life foray into cheating her already privileged children into college. Another expression of not being able to let go. But mostly I’m distracted by the fact that Jake Lacy, who plays her son, manages to wear his hair in a tiny ponytail without looking like an utter putz. What kind of witchcraft is this? He and his hair stylists deserve Oscars.

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 10.02.25 AM
Witchcraft is how he manages to wear this ponytail without looking like an utter putz. Though I’m not sure how well this screen grab makes that point.

Angela Bassett’s son, who is thirty-six, brings home a seventeen-year-old with whom he plans to have sex and has promised a modeling job. He doesn’t know she’s seventeen, but maybe thinks she’s in college? I’m not excusing him. I’m just giving you the facts. Again I ask myself, “Is there time travel in this movie? Did we teleport back to a time when movies could get away with having situations like this passed off as kind of amusing and implicitly okay?” Angela Bassett is what I would classify as mildly outraged at the situation. She does not, for example, pull the girl aside and explain to her that grown ass men who pick young women are never, ever worth your time. She does not explain the importance of power dynamics in a relationship. She does not say that one’s willingness to have sex should never be a qualifying factor for a job. She does not, as I wanted her to, walk the girl out and make sure she gets in a cab. She does not hold her very adult son accountable for his actions. She merely makes some pointed remark about statutory rape and the conversation moves on. At this point I am very disappointed in movie Angela Bassett and her son. But then I remember the Persist. bumper sticker, so I know she’s still a feminist and it’s all okay!

But also, he’s THIRTY-SIX earth years old! Haven’t all these men been independent for a long time? What have the mothers been doing for the last, say, eighteen years? Maybe drinking Bourbon and sharing a husband. No matter. Persist! 

Actually, at nearly an hour into the movie I consider not persisting, but then the plot (kind of) starts picking up. Angela Bassett and her biceps (the only characters I mildly care about) get more screen time and her character gains some depth (relatively speaking, please).

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 10.04.33 AM
Angela Bassett and her biceps—the only characters I kind of care about so far—looking mildly annoyed about her adult son bringing home a teenager for sex.

She gets a makeover—which unleashes her true potential, obviously—at the hands of a very white, very young woman. This could maybe seem extremely problematic, but need I remind you: PERSIST. BUMPER STICKER. Finally, Angela Bassett meets Afton Williamson (one of the reasons I watched most of Season 1 of The Rookie ), and I realize what I really want from this movie: The two of them to ditch everyone else and go off and make a buddy comedy. That does not happen.

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 1.42.20 PM
I wish I were watching these two in a buddy comedy.

This movie drags on with misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and reconciliations—I don’t think these are spoilers unless you have never seen a movie—until in the end everyone is happy—or I think that’s what they’re supposed to be—and maybe kind of changed. I don’t know. Mostly, I am still concerned that Patricia Arquette doesn’t know how caller ID works. I’m concerned about the seventeen-year-old. I am deeply concerned that other men will think they can successfully wear Jake Lacy’s stunted ponytail. And I still think the same man played two husbands. I am wondering what happened to the naked man at the beginning. Why didn’t we get to see more of him? (You know you are, too!) I do know that I didn’t cry at the end, and I cry at the end of very poorly made movies where the actors are basically made of cardboard.

Nevertheless, I persisted. 

And in a few years, when I desperately need distraction from a cycle of pain and I’ve completely forgotten every last detail of this movie, I will likely watch it again.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

Distressing: I’m so uncomfortable. I wonder if this will ever stop. I might want to be sedated. 




One thought on “Otherhood

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