Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Shannon Plumb's wondrous Towheads starts with an unusual perspective. The camera looks up between the director's legs, while she holds a snake. Exciting? Yes, but not how you might think. The snake is a fluffy stuffed animal toy and Plumb in her role as Penelope wears jeans, collapsed and tired on a sofa at 2:30 pm, just before it's time to pick up her children, the towheads of the title, played by the director's real-life sons, Cody and Walker.

Plumb's slapstick glitters as military music turns her walk with a broken stroller, a big bag, a half-deflated beach ball and a large cup of coffee, past a Brooklyn parking lot into a lovable universal march of motherhood. The boys fight with peas and the contents of the most indulgent cereal box compendium imaginable, and ask, "Can we eat for real?" to break a brittle fourth wall. "You have rice hanging from your head," the mother says calmly and reads them a bedtime story.

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Plumb is an artist with fantastic comical timing, a comparison to Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton is not far off, channelled through Carole Lombard with a bit of Lillian Gish's soulfulness. The husband, a theater director named Matt, played appropriately by Plumb's husband director Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond The Pines, Blue Valentine) is heard and seen, but never shows his face. He is hidden behind the fridge, a lamp, a book. The film is packed with auditions, for baby sitters, pole dancers, Santa Claus ("I help blind people go to school" and "I feed wild cats - with sardines" will get you the job).

"How do you get superpowers?" is the big question while Penelope strides through her own private Holy Motors, in shoes too big, and bold mustaches, to escape the still all too present threats of A Doll's House.

A marvelous shopping sequence during which she relieves a mannequin from a roped-on leather jacket and buys a white meringue dress at Brooklyn boutique Bird, shows the director at her best. She seems tempted by a belt with bells (can you imagine a more masochistic - as well as sadistic - piece of clothing?) and blurs the line between dressing up and playing dress up, a distinction that sartorially marks the rite of passage to becoming a woman.

Through disguises, Plumb deconstructs societal expectations and performs a few answers to Sigmund Freud's famous question 'What does a woman want?' Her Santa Claus doubles as a dancing spy (absurdly persuasive like Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud's Antoine Doinel), as a pole dancing apprentice she wears a motorcycle helmet and channels Darth Vader, for a commercial audition in her bathing suit, she wrestles with a foldable chair and a crooked straw.

CG Jung's archetype of the mother finds no ideological room to nestle down comfortably in Towheads, as it does in far too many movies. The humour and responsibility come with a price, as Freud knew in 1905: "No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed."

"Who is going to do our hair?" Plumb/Penelope asks her sons in voice-over during the end credits.

"Nobody," they say. "Nobody," she repeats affirmatively.

Reviewed on: 21 Mar 2013
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A Brooklyn mother finds comic relief from domestic drudgery.


NDNF 2013

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