When Azazel Jacobs discusses the avant-garde cinema favored by his father Ken Jacobs, he asserts that its focus on abstraction means the audience has to meet the filmmaker halfway. The same can be said for Azazel's third feature film, Momma's Man, which twists the idea of autobiography into an experience that's at once remarkably intimate, and carefully distancing.
Mikey (Matt Boren) has just concluded a business trip to New York, where he opted to stay with his parents in their Tribeca loft. When the time comes to return home to his wife Laura (Dana Varon) and their baby daughter in California, Mikey hesitates, missing his flight and taking the subway back to the familiar jumble of his childhood home. For no discernible reason, Mikey commences a series of lies to his parents, wife and employer about why he needs to remain in New York, where he holes up in his old room.
If Momma's Man proves one thing, it's that with the right attitude, Manhattan can be as boring as anywhere else. Mikey's visit has a dispiriting aimlessness to it, and he easily reverts back to his sullen, inchoate adolescent self. Boren looks like a young John Belushi drained of all his anarchic drive, and his passivity is made up of equal parts hostility and defeat.
Writer-director Jacobs (Nobody Needs to Know) displays not just a wry sense of humor with Momma's Man, but his own blend of revelatory obfuscation. He gives Mikey no real backstory, leaving the audience to wonder if he was always this indecisive, or if this is a duck-and-cover response to adulthood. Yet Jacobs infuses his onscreen surrogate with his own history.
Not only does he cast his parents, Ken and Flo Jacobs, as Mikey's dad and mom, but turns their apartment into a movie set. What he captures is now a rarity in gentrified Tribeca, an honest to goodness bohemian loft stuffed to the rafters with 40 years of bric-a-brac; a home built by nurturing parents who prize artistic expression.
Julie Delpy achieves a similar balancing act with 2 Days in Paris (2007), incorporating slapstick and cultural misunderstandings into her personal fiction. Azazel Jacobs' comedy of errors is tinged with sadness and bemusement, a hodgepodge of conflicting emotions resulting in a kind of nervous stagnation.
His feckless Mikey is more than a Momma's Man; he's the new model for Peter Pan.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 10, and Saturday, Oct. 11, and 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 12. Call 313-833-3237.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].