With debts piling up and no real job prospects on the horizon, former punk rocker, and single mother of three daughters, Theresa (C. Fraser Press), makes the most drastic choice she can: she moves her family back to the small town she grew up in, to live with her parents. And frankly, while Mom, Cloris (Edie McClurg), and Dad, Roy (Richard Poe), are happy to see their daughter and grandchildren, they’re not necessarily keen on having their lives disrupted right now. They’ve got their almost nightly hot tub parties to consider, after all.
So Theresa’s stay is not one without drama, trivial and otherwise, and she needs to find a real job (her musical “auditions” are not putting food on the table). At first she settles on humbling yard work for various people throughout the town, but when father Jerry (Robert Turano) investigates why his son Seth (Matthew Gumley) has lost all his yard customers to an undercutting competitor, he finds Theresa… who promptly lets Jerry believe it’s her daughter Maggie (Schuyler Press) who outbid Seth on his gig and, after more confused conversation, leads to Maggie being forced to team up with Seth in the yard business while Theresa is hired by Jerry to write a song for Seth to sing at his upcoming bar mitzvah. It makes more sense than how I explained it…
And there’s a lot more going on, but I’m not here to give you the full play-by-play of the plot. Simply, Theresa is a Mother is bustling with plot and character developments, but in a very good way. The narrative is easy to follow, even as it delves into the more subtle motivations or subtext involving the different characters. It’s the type of film where you might initially say that it’s Theresa’s story, but it’s more than that.
Because Theresa isn’t the only character with an arc who develops and grows over the course of the film. Practically everyone does, even the smaller characters with limited screen time, like Jerry (who has his ideas of what Seth will be and what Seth wants, and has to come to terms with who Seth really is). In that way, it’s a film of small revelations and advances instead of huge, melodramatic blowouts that change everything. It’s a more natural growth.
At the same time, this film is more than a little goofy in its comedy. Between the hot tub parties, the youngest daughter who seems to be needing to take a shit all the time and even Seth’s eventual choice of song, it’s fun but also strange and awkward. Which is not a bad thing, I like strange and awkward (I am strange and awkward), but it is worth noting.
I did have a few qualms here or there with the edit; not so much the pacing, which is fine, but there are moments where you feel like you missed something due to how the film sets them up. The Jerry/Theresa conversation at the house, for example, while you follow it, there was a chunk of the conversation that you didn’t actually get to hear, so you get Jerry saying that Maggie and Seth should work together, but you never hear Theresa throwing Maggie under the lawnmower, as it were.
Also, some moments lost me as far as character’s behavior. For example, there’s a significant character absent at Seth’s bar mitzvah, and regardless of how good the reason, it didn’t seem right that it would play out that way. The timing felt off, almost like the filmmakers tried to accomplish too much in one cinematic night when it might’ve been better to separate the two elements more.
Overall, though, Theresa is a Mother was a very entertaining film. Again, I truly appreciated that the characters, regardless of where they would fall in the hierarchy of “lead, supporting, etc,” were all given lives to develop and grow. In fact, when I think back on the film, it’s rare that the revelations or developments I key in on are Theresa’s; more often I think of someone else. In that way, Theresa is more the glue of the film that holds everyone in the same space, so we can experience everyone’s perspective.
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