Tuesday, March 19, 2019

SXSW with Abe: Mother’s Little Helpers

I’m excited to be attending the film festival at South by Southwest for the second time, and I’ll be posting reviews throughout the week as I see as many movies as possible!

Mother’s Little Helpers
Directed by Kestrin Pantera
Narrative Spotlight

Aside from when children are young and being raised under one roof, the only time some families come together is either in preparation for or after the occurrence of a parent’s death. Those siblings who don’t have a tight-knit relationship may drift apart, and without annual get-togethers or life-cycle events, it’s possible for years to pass without everyone being in the same room or house. That eventual interaction is bound to be awkward, with old feelings bubbling to the surface and threatening to explode if there is plenty of baggage coming from all involved, ready to spill over as an unthinkable inevitability approaches.

Sadie (Kestrin Pantera) receives a call from her mother Joy (Melanie Hutsell) that she is dying of cancer, and reluctantly takes on her role as the only one of four siblings who every actively engages in caring for her. When she arrives to learn that, even though her mother has not seen a doctor, she is indeed dying, she contacts her siblings, who all slowly show up, bringing them together for the first time in many years. Her brother Jude (Sam Littlefield) is on house arrest and feeling particularly claustrophobic, Julia (Breeda Wool) has no idea how to use technology and seems like she comes from another planet, and Lucy (Milana Vayntrub), the only doctor in the family, has the least interest out of all of them in being there.

Getting to know these siblings through their present-day interactions and select visual-only flashbacks to momentous experiences with their mother proves to be a mesmerizing experience, one that truly gets to the heart of how their family dynamic has shaped them into who they are. Trapped in such close proximity helps increase the tension and lead to a number of boiling points, bringing to the forefront both the damage they feel has been inflicted by their mother and the resentment they have each developed towards each other as a result.

Pantera, who directed the film, explained at a Q and A following a SXSW screening that each of the five primary cast members, all credited as writers, went through something similar to this film in terms of loss before signing on to the project, a real-life investment that helps to explain the effectiveness of all the performances. They’re all equally competent and compelling, enhancing a story that might be universal but feels exceptionally personal. It alternates between funny and moving, painting an immensely watchable portrait of a dysfunctional family forced to function as they say goodbye to one of their own.


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