Although the Tribeca Film Festival has been indefinitely postponed, several films that were scheduled to screen at the event have been made available to critics for screening.
Call Your Mother is not as deep or incisive as directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady previous documentaries like Jesus Camp or Detropia. This time out the duo are looking at the relationship between stand-up comics and their mothers, the women in their lives who may not only have raised them but perhaps shaped their comic sensibilities as well.
The interviews that comprise the spine of the film are a mixed bag. Comedians being comedians, they can’t help themselves but make jokes or use a portion of their act that evade answering the questions posed them, before getting down to the business at hand. There is no universality to their experiences. Some grew up with their mother as their only parent. Some had mothers they clearly received their sense of humor from, while others had moms who may not have really understood what motivated their child to go into standup comedy. Some had mothers who economically struggled, while others were more financially comfortably. In contrast, Awkwafina discusses about how her mother died when she was young, so she grew up with her grandmother in that role. But despite the differences in background, they have one common thread – their love for their mothers.
If there is any bittersweetness to be found, it is in the time spent with longtime comics Louis Anderson and Judy Gold. Gold’s mother, whose neurotic answering machine messages were a feature of her daughter’s standup act, died five years previously, but Gold still holds onto her, relistening to old messages in her home. Conversely, Anderson keeps his departed mother alive in his act, an evolution of his his standup moving from material about himself and his weight to more personal remanences about his mother and growing up.
If the film has a fault, it is that it tries to cram in too many comics and their moms. There are a couple of comics here whose presence seems extraneous. They don’t add much, if anything, to the overall discussion but it feels like the directors retained at least a small scrap of footage from those interviews because it allows for a couple of bigger, more well known names to be added to the cast list. (I’m looking at you Norm MacDonald.)
But when it comes to talking about performing in front of their parents, no matter how supportive they may be, the comics all seem to squirm a bit with perhaps a bit of vestigial feelings of being a child in front of an adult. As Jim Norton says “You shouldn’t feel comfortable talking about anal in front of your mom. That’s not a good relationship.”
Perhaps its the film’s ill-defined answer as to how a parent can shape their child’s comedic sensibility, but Call Your Mother ultimately lacks a deeper unifying theme and ultimately leaves one wishing for more time to explore the concept and perhaps find one.