Review: Stage Mother

Ever since her turn as the sadistically practical head of a ruthless crime family in the Australian movie Animal Kingdom, Jacki Weaver has cultivated an enviable career as the mother-for-any-occasion-and-accent. In a sense, she’s the easiest casting choice for the part of the richly imagined Maybelline Metcalf, a Texan Baptist who travels to San Francisco to attend to the disposal of her estranged gay son’s effects after he dies from a drug overdose on stage at the drag club he owns. Weaver has an uncanny ability to somehow transcend the worst traits written into her mother hen characters, and Maybelline, on paper, must have been a doozy. Though branded a comedy, Stage Mother is essentially a woke melodrama that veers fitfully into the ridiculous, and somehow Weaver never loses sight of the character or the movie’s guiding purpose of uplift, which, by now, feels outdated when addressing matters of parents acknowledging their children’s homosexuality, especially after they’ve died.

As the title so rudely points out, Maybelline quickly accepts the people her son worked and played with, including his partner, Nathan (Adrian Grenier), who reflexively pushes Maybelline away, convinced she’s a Republican banshee (she is, as a later scene involving an attempted rape and a gun prove), and his best friend, Sienna (Lucy Liu), a single mother with her own substance-abuse problems. Maybelline is so quick to take over the bar, which is failing financially, that Nathan doesn’t have time to file a restraining order and before you can say “T-bone steak” she’s jettisoned the establishment’s lip-syncing policy and is teaching the performers, which include a transitioning black man, how to sing in real harmony, just like her church choir at home. 

The name of the game is resourcefulness tempered with a bit of Texan hospitality if that hospitality weren’t informed by bigotry, which is why Maybelline’s husband back in Red Vine can’t abide his wife’s staying on any longer than she has to and she is free to strike up a flirtation with an ex-hippie-turned-5-star-hotel-concierge (Anthony Skordi), which is probably as good a metaphor for the unaffordable swamp San Francisco has turned into as anything, except that the filmmakers can’t quite grasp that irony and its implications. We’ve all seen this movie before and if it feels phony and over-determined in comparison to others of its ilk it has nothing to do with intentions, either Weaver’s or director Thom Fitzgerald’s. It’s because it doesn’t address reality outside the small world it attempts to elucidate. As melodramas go, it’s pretty limited. Any self-respecting drama queen would reject it on principle. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001).

Stage Mother home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2019 Stage Mother LLC

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