The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song is a documentary about a man named Muscle and his 75 year old mother Mary. They live in Georgetown Guyana, South America, in a big green house with a bunch of chickens and various animals. Muscle takes care of his mother, raises the chickens to become money-making cock fighters and does whatever he can to keep the lights on in the house. His biggest priority isn’t making ends meet, however, but making sure mother doesn’t leave the house unattended without one of this three siblings.
At first it seems he has to keep an eye on her because she’s an elderly woman who likes to take walks alone and drink like it’s her 21st birthday, but no, dear reader, it’s much more dense and heartbreaking than that. This ambitious film tells a haunting and audacious story of a family filled with hurt, and as Muscle humbly states, has enough skeletons in their closet to fill a cemetery.
This film wrecked me. If director Christy Garland’s intention was to tell the story of one of the most courageous women to have ever been documented, she succeeded. If her intent was to show a harrowing story of how some cope with survival and pain, she can now cross that off the list of things to do as a filmmaker too. This is one of those stories that will make the audience self-reflect and think, “Life really ain’t so bad,” as the end credits roll. That last sentence may be as clichéd as they come, but it’s true.
Garland must also be applauded for how she captured this story and told it through Muscle, Mary, the siblings, and their journeys around the city. It takes a daring and sharp filmmaker to zero in on a sensitive subject without being invasive; Garland never oversteps her boundaries and documents the trauma as best as she can.
We’re never told why Muscle is called Muscle, but it’s unmistakeable his emotions (and brawn) are powerful and can keep the house from falling part. Mother Smith is a juggernaut of poor decisions and self-sabotage (and for very good reason), but he protects her and is the voice of reason. Mary eventually lets out all of her demons, which explains her unnerving reasons for hitting the sauce as hard as she possibly can. Both Mary and Muscle have dreams of a better life, but he wants to let sleeping dogs lie and keeps looking forward to a brighter future. One thing is for certain – The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song is one the most melancholic and poignant true stories ever told.
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