On paper, Momma’s Man sounds uninspiring: a thirty-something man named Mikey (played by Matt Boren) with a wife and baby in Los Angeles visits his parents’ New York loft while on a business trip and finds himself incapable of returning to the West Coast. But this quietly astonishing film from Azazel Jacobs is much more than the sum of its parts; it’s a smart, beautifully constructed lo-fi meditation on childhood, family and aging. Jacobs filmed his follow-up to The GoodTimes Kid (2005) in his childhood home in lower Manhattan and cast his own parents, Ken and Flo Jacobs, as Mikey’s parents. Although they have little acting experience, they are both important artists in their own right - Ken an influential experimental filmmaker and Flo a painter.
Mikey, already on his way back to the airport, suddenly decides to delay his flight by a day. After his exceptionally kind, patient mom cooks him dinner, he heads up to his bedroom in a ramshackle alcove, drapes himself in an old Halloween costume, finds a guitar and thumbs through a high school notebook, full of badly written lyrics about break-ups like ‘I hope you die too’. As the days start to pass by, he keeps delaying his flight home, repeatedly making excuses for prolonging his stay, jeopardising his relationship and his career.
Haunted by the idea of watching his parents get old, he begins to revert back to adolescence, seeming more juvenile with every day that passes. He creeps back into the house after getting drunk playing arcade games, and sits around reading comic books in bed wearing nothing but shabby long johns. His mother fusses over him, constantly trying to feed him, making sure that he’s dressed warmly enough, and even gives him pocket money - in short, fulfilling all of the endearing, yet exasperating, rituals of parenthood. Eventually, Mikey becomes more childlike, more helpless, unable to even leave the loft by himself.
What makes the film so exceptional, aside from a great performance by Boren, are the filmmaker’s inspirational parents, and the loft itself. It’s packed with eccentric ephemera collected over the 40 years that the family have lived there, from dancing plastic robots and a collection of snow globes to 78 records, which Ken lovingly listens to. His son, with the help of the cinematographer Tobias Datum (who also shot Gerardo Naranjo’s Voy a explotar), seems to document his home for the sake of posterity, but it’s also an intimate exploration of a very personal space, laid bare for the audience. The incredibly genuine performances delivered by both Ken and Flo seem to further blur the line between biography and fiction; scenes of them watching Ken’s films, projected in the loft, add another beguiling dimension to the picture.
Although the laid-back pacing demands a little patience, Momma’s Man is full of comic moments, while the poignant relationship between parent and child is rarely portrayed on screen with so much honesty. It’s a tribute to both Jacobs’s parents and to childhood, not to mention a bohemian New York lifestyle on the verge of extinction.