The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - MOMMY'S BOX | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - MOMMY'S BOX

A music producer confronts his past upon returning to his hometown for his mother's funeral.

Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Johnny Greenlaw

Starring: Johnny Greenlaw, Bill Sorvino, Carly Brooke, Gina Scarda, Jennifer Dorcic, Joe Donofrio, David Harris

Johnny Greenlaw’s movie is an intelligent, convincing and human drama. Open Mommy’s Box and you’ll find a true film by a real film maker.

During the sepia themed sequences that open Johnny Greenlaw’s emotive drama Mommy’s Box, we witness two young brothers in flashback. The kids are in the process of making a shadow puppet show, and, looking for more materials for their game, they accidentally discover a stash of their late father’s pornography. Caught in the act of innocently pouring over centrefolds, the boys are swiftly chastised by their imposing mother. In these opening moments Greenlaw pointedly aligns an adolescent past - in this instance sexual awakenings and their relation to a domineering maternal influence - with its influence upon adult development. To reinforce the point, he cross cuts immediately to one of the boys (Nick, played by Greenlaw), a quarter century later, performing unsuccessfully during an impromptu one-night stand.

Nick is kind hearted, but on his uppers. Like his father before him, Nick works as a music producer, and displays the sort of dedication to detail and work ethic in the studio that encourages us to believe he deserves better than to be bossed around by the annoying Bieber-esque protégé (Kade Wise - bringing great energy as Kip Karazma) whose falsetto wordplay he is tasked with facilitating. Across town his brother (Joey, Bill Sorvino) is faring little better, either; as a car salesman his approach to demonstrating the trunk capacity of a family car is to childishly climb in and remark upon how plush the carpet is. To quote the theme song of another New York set dramedy which took as its impetus the challenges of adapting and adulting, the two brothers are stuck in second gear. As a drunken Reverend sagely explains to Nick in the second act, ‘sometimes we need to look back to see what we’re missing’.

The well-worn implications of the Rev’s homily are explored through Mommy’s Box’s affecting narrative, and are further complicated by the mysteries of what is secreted in the titular container. In flashback, Nick’s tactile mother (Gina Scarda, whose sensuality is used with deliberate impropriety) gives him a key to a safety deposit box, explaining that it is only to be opened in the event of her passing. Half way through an early recording session, Nick receives a phone call informing him of the estranged Mommy’s death (both grown men refer to their mother using the juvenile designation ‘Mommy’, an explicit indicator of their arrested development). Returning to his home borough for the funeral, Nick is forced to confront the uneasy secrets of his relationship with his mother, alongside dealing with the dramas of old friends (similarly damaged Hayes, a DUI played by Jennifer Dorcic) and a few new ones too, namely appealing bar singer Jordana (Carly Brooke).

Once back in the homestead, Nick is prone to imagining the ghost of his mother, all iron bosom and angry dignity, a Banquo dynamic that suggests lingering guilt over previous transgression. What could this mean? The film drops unsavoury but compelling hints, as Nick experiences weird, insanely Oedipal nightmares (or are they merely dreams?) which give a further licentious meaning to the film’s title. Interactions with his cohorts suggest Nick’s lingering dissatisfaction, and frustrations of a potential unfulfilled (as is typical in the medium of self-financed indie cinema, failure here correlates with money worries), which, the film proposes, is down to the malign influence of Mommy upon her sons. *Minor spoilers follow* However, the sort of repressions that Mommy’s Box consistently hints at throughout its run time are counterpointed in the final reel, when the actual events involving Mommy and her actions are revealed, and which seem to have little thematic relevance to what has been so consciously built up beforehand. Similarly, there is the customary conservative suggestion that ‘going home again’ may reawaken spiritual mojo, but this shibboleth is (refreshingly) countered because everyone at home is as similarly effed up or discontented as Nick is (even idealised Jordana is subject to a stalker who parks outside her house for a wank now and again: perhaps sexual deviance is simply par for the course in Long Island).

While the thematic unity or narrative closure of Mommy’s Box may ultimately disappoint, it is only frustrating as the process of watching the film is otherwise so utterly beguiling. Greenlaw’s talent is imposing: as a likeable and convincing lead, as a writer of intriguing family drama, and as a director who manages the potential melodrama of his script with subtle, funny performances.

The production values of his film are gorgeous too; the deep colours and widescreen photography ambitiously present the drama with more visual panache and care than most Hollywood equivalents. Paul Coelho’s soundtrack is marvellous, and even the suits that various characters don are stunning (how often does one comment upon the costumes of a kickstarted indie?). While the denouement of Greenlaw’s movie may not quite succeed in tying together the narrative complexities it suggests, such quibbles are minor and levelled at the film only as flaws that slightly tarnish its overall eminence as an intelligent, convincing and human drama. Open Mommy’s Box and you’ll find a true film by a real film maker.

Mommy's Box is available on VOD now.