In Ken Wardrop’s first feature length film since his acclaimed 2009 film His & Hers, the documentarian travels to Oklahoma – the so-called manliest state in the US – and talks to sons about their relationships with their mothers.
Mom & Me feels like a natural follow up to His & Hers – in which Irish women tell the stories of their lives and their relationships with men – but while the film is sweet and warm in parts, there are also times when it feels as though there are too many subjects in this film, and to spend time with some of the standout mothers and sons would have made for a better rounded film.
It’s curious that an Irish director travelled to the US for this film about sons and mothers, since the relationship between Irish mammies and their sons is one that is constantly lampooned and celebrated throughout Ireland. That said, there is some merit to looking at these relationships in a state noted for its masculinity, as this not only shines a light on the space between genders, but also the strength of the women behind these men.
Mom & Me is framed by a radio host – Joe Cristiano – as he asks listeners to call in and tell him about their relationships with their mothers. This is a clever framing device and one that almost always works – there are times where it feels as though Joe is talking to no-one in particular – and not only allows Joe to talk about his own relationship with his mother, but also introduces the audience to the subjects of the film. Director Ken Wardrop does not go to great pains to introduce the men at the centre of the film, rather allowing their stories to be told with little background, and often the audience not even being told their names. This is obviously a deliberate choice to allow the relationships to speak for themselves, but it does leave a gap of knowledge in the film, one that the audience struggles to cross to engage with the people at the heart of the film.
There are times when Mom & Me introduces people into the film that don’t have much screen time, other than the sons talking about how great their mothers are, or telling a witty anecdote. On the other hand, the film also introduces men who have complicated or fraught relationships with their mothers, but never spends enough time with these stories for them to feel satisfying or fully told. There is a warm heart to Mom & Me, but a stronger focus on the truly engaging stories would have turned this film from sweet curiosity to a true look at family bonds in different circumstances.
In all, Mom & Me is a sweet and warm look at the relationships between 18 sons and their mothers, but there are times when a stronger throughline of looking at peaceful and fraught relationships could have made for a more engaging film. As it stands, Mom & Me sometimes feels superficial and unsatisfying, but there is a warm heart to the film that shines through.