Early on in Momma's Man, there is a scene that encapsulates the best of this sly, sharply observed indie. The "momma's man" of the title is in the bedroom of his childhood, bashing away on a guitar he obviously doesn't know how to play and warbling the profanity-filled lyrics to a song he wrote way back when in high school. Our wannabe rocker, who is named Mike (Matt Boren), appears to be both nostalgic for the past and desperately attempting to reconstruct it. Most of all, however, he just seems kinda pathetic -- especially when the camera reveals that his parents are in bed only a few feet away.
That sense of melancholy humor defines most of Momma's Man. It isn't always successful; writer-director Azazel Jacobs succumbs to a fair amount of the navel-gazing seemingly endemic in indie cinema. Still, the film offers a unique, uniquely sensitive perspective on arrested male adolescence.
The man-child in this instance is Mike, a portly, otherwise nondescript 30-something. As the movie opens, he is on a business trip in New York City, where he has taken the opportunity to visit his aging parents (played by the filmmaker's actual folks, artists Ken and Flo Jacobs). Then something strange happens. Mike finds himself curiously unwilling to catch the airline flight back home to California, where his wife (Dana Varon) and baby daughter anxiously await his return.
Mike invents excuses about his staying put. He was bumped from a flight; there was a screw-up with the airline; he's anguished by seeing his parents grow old. Jacobs, to his credit, doesn't explicitly reveal why Mike anchors himself to his parents' uber-eccentric apartment. Is the cause-and-effect of life ever so tidy as that? We might surmise that it has something to do with his newfound fatherhood, but Momma's Man opts for an ambivalence that gives Mike's psychological and physical retreat a universal resonance.
Whatever the reason, Mike begins to regress. Clad in a bathrobe or just in briefs, he loses himself in the cavernous apartment where he grew up (again, Azazel Jacobs' real-life childhood home). The allure is understandable. The place is a bric-a-brac wonderland, a jam-packed maze of trinkets, toys, overflowing boxes and assorted (if not sorted) mementos. Days go by. On the few occasions that Mikey ventures outdoors, it's to hang out with his pot-smoking chum Dante (Piero Arcilesi) or ring up an old high school girlfriend.
It's not played as broad comedy, however. Employing deliberate pacing, naturalistic camerawork and long takes reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch (whom Jacobs counts as an influence), the filmmaker navigates the tricky No-Man's Land between comedy and tragedy. We view Mikey's pseudo-breakdown with certain detachment. Momma's Man is definitely not for all tastes, but cinephiles with a predilection for the quirky and challenging will be well-rewarded.
The picture quality of the low-budgeter is uneven. Lines and details are generally good, but the film is dogged throughout by small tears, minor grain and white flakes. Such are the inevitabilities, perhaps, of a shoestring budget.
The 2.0 track gets the job done, but there's nothing flashy about it. Subtitles are not included.
Perhaps the most fascinating extra is an audio conversation between Jacobs and his parents. Recorded in March, 2008, shortly after Momma's Man had been screened at Lincoln Center, the conversation is a wide-ranging meditation on the film, its themes, its making and the extent to which it is autobiographical. Viewers can listen to the conversation by itself or view it along with the movie, although the 49-minute, 33-second audio is not feature-length.
Momma's Family: A Momma's Man Featurette (41:57) is a sometimes interesting, sometimes meandering behind-the-scenes mini-documentary. It does, however, help illuminate how Azazel Jacobs' real life and upbringing shaped the movie.
Azazel Jacobs' father, Ken Jacobs, is one of the giants of New York avant-garde cinema. Among the more offbeat extras is Capitalism: Child Labor (13:44), one of the elder Jacobs' more recent works, an animated stenograph about manufacturing in the early days of the 20th century.
The seven-minute, 17-second Rain Building Music is Azazel Jacobs' first film, and is of negligible interest. Six deleted scenes with a total running time of nearly 15 minutes can be viewed separately or consecutively. A few of the scenes are helpful accentuating the divide between Mike's adult life and the bohemian lifestyle of his childhood. Rounding things out is a theatrical trailer.
With its ambling pace and improvisational vibe, Momma's Man represents indie filmmaking at its most intriguing and, yes, frustrating. Azazel Jacobs' quasi-autobiographical tale examines arrested adolescence and the flight from responsibility, but he keeps things loose enough to invite all manners of interpretation. In the end, the film is rewarding, albeit not for all tastes.