The theaters have been so awash in stories of stunted development that it seems unfair to summarize “Momma’s Man,” the third feature from Azazel Jacobs, the best film I saw at Sundance and one of my favorites from the year to date. But yeah, it is about how a 30-something man-child (Matt Boren) essentially moves back in with his parents — except, in this case, the father and mother are played by the director’s real-life pop and mom, avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs and his gravely compelling wife Flo. The film’s shot almost entirely in the crazily cluttered downtown loft in which Azazel grew up and in which his parents still live. It sounds both indulgent and like a sitcom set-up, and it’s neither — Jacobs has made a film that crystallizes that desire I’d guess most of us have had at one time or another, to reduce yourself back to an inculpable aspect of your parents’ already-formed lives, to wrap the debris of your childhood around yourself like a duvet and to refuse to turn your thoughts forward to the shoulds waiting for you there.
Anyway, reviews are good to great — J. Hoberman at the Village Voice, a longtime friend of the family, discloses that “I cannot evaluate Momma’s Man with an outsider’s clarity,” but still declares the film “one of the sweetest, saddest stories Franz Kafka never wrote.” “[B]uried beneath the poignant clutter of this occasionally familiar stunted-youth-in-life-transition tale is a surprisingly complex, elegantly detailed meditation on creativity and artistic growth,” adds Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. Writes Manohla Dargis at the New York Times:
“Momma’s Man” is an extraordinarily tender film — Mr. Jacobs and his camera dote on his parents — but it’s more complex than the valentine to Mom and Dad I originally had it pegged as when I first saw it at Sundance,” From some angles the loft comes across like a phantasmagoric playground, but it doesn’t appear to offer a lot of room to stretch, much less to grow. Yet, as the repeated two-shots of his parents imply, Mr. Jacobs is also acknowledging a simple truth about parents and children too rarely broached in American movies, particularly in an indie scene enslaved by juvenilia: There’s more to your parents than you.
“Above all, ‘Momma’s Man’ feels like an intensely personal consideration of the impermanence of things — not just childhood, but also neighborhoods, cities, entire ways of life,” muses Scott Foundas at Variety, while Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir agrees that, among other things, “It’s a story about realizing for the first time that someday, a lot sooner than you think, your parents and your childhood home will be gone.” Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club, a little less ebullient, writes that Jacobs hasn’t reinvented the wheel, but that the film is “a welcome change of pace regardless.”
And the New York Press‘ Armond White is practically positive, given “Momma’s Man”‘s hipster pedigree. He offers up a coveted Spielberg comparison — “This story of Mikey leaving his wife and child in Los Angeles to return to the nest of his parents’ Tribeca loft shows personal commitment much like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan” — and finds that the fact that the director “recognizes Mikey’s regression separates Momma’s Man from most self-absorbed indie films,” before concluding that nevertheless “Momma’s Man isn’t Baumbach-rotten, but there’s no elucidation that transcends its artsy ‘realism.’ “
[Photo: “Momma’s Man,” Kino, 2008]