“Bitch, you took my baby!” yells a mother to a daughter, amidst the shadowed walls and dimly lit rooms of your average American condo at roughly 3 o’clock in the morning; Said scenario initially conjuring up images of the best, yet mellow dramatic soap operas combined: a la As the GERD Burns, The Un-rested and the Restless, or All my Children’s Stolen Children… Come to find out the baby to which the mother refers is the self-same daughter she is accusing of stealing her baby! Wait. WHAT?!? Such is the world and logic of Alzheimer’s Disease and it is all explored in the emotionally charged, yet loving and light hearted short: My Mom and the Girl.
Starring, penned, and produced by Susie Singer Carter, My Mom and the Girl takes a raw, hard look, through soft focus, at one of the least understood, and oftentimes, most harrowing facets of aging: Alzheimer’s. Starring Valerie Harper, as Carter’s ailing mother Norma and Carter as herself, the film unfolds all in one challenging night, highlighting vibrant-to-troubling flashbacks of Norma’s life since the disquieting discovery.
Almost beautiful (well, no simply beautiful) at times, the film wends its way betwixt light and dark, via confusion and lucidity, underlining the most shadowy of nocturnal musings, tempered with flashbacks of the sunniest variety by way of daylight reminiscence.
Commencing with a barrage of curses directed at her own daughter, Norma will invariably recognize the baby she birthed as nobody’s self-kidnapping “bitch”. By way of Susie’s patient, filial reminders, maternal memory restores itself and more than a glimmer of nurturing charm can be witnessed as Norma strokes her daughter’s cheek.
The tenor of the film remains just this consistently inconsistent from here on out, as Norma serenades a bemused, (then amused) man on a bus utilizing music as a grounding and communal force throughout the film in her moments of greatest lucidity. All this tempered by further descent into confusion at the onset of the plot’s central dementia spell wherein the room waxes palpably smaller as the blues, shadows and odd camera angles intensify, nearly reminiscent of a vintage film noir yet encompassing all the real world intrigue of a depicted anxiety attack! The audience laughs good naturedly as Norma flirts with a sexy valet parker, and sorrowfully gasps as she absconds home in the middle of the night, her longtime and beloved housekeeper in tow, only to accuse her of trying to rob her; all culminating in the encounter with the girl: a uniquely beautiful, mysterious, but very sad girl. Via the state of her own lucidity shinning through her bewilderment, Norma invariably teaches this girl more about herself in a matter of minutes than she has probably understood in a lifetime of not feeling comfortable in her own skin: A therapeutic and teachable moment for both, to be sure!
Granting Alzheimer’s a workable face and rhythm, Harper is a force with which to be reckoned as she shifts from manic, to miserable, to serene, to almost meditative, in a matter of seconds. When at the top of Norma’s game, Harper and her portrayal are as fiery as the sun is warm (at times even sexy) and on the flipside, as blue and dim and cool as the dark side of the moon: But both equally fascinating, as two uniformly beautiful sides of the proverbial, symbiotic, mercurial coin.
All in all, stellar performances from Harper and Carter alike. Liz Torres as Harper’s steadfast and endearing housekeeper Irlanda, Rick Singer as the likeable and amusing Man on Bus, Josh McClenney as the charming and attractive valet parker, and Harmony Santana as the sad and mysterious girl (to name a few) round out this cohesive and arresting cast.
As an added bonus, the movie’s closing credits display footage and photos of Carter’s real world mom juxtaposed with Harper’s portrayal, along with real world family members vs. film characters to additional personalizing and endearing appeal: As touching a tear jerker as I have seen in quite some time!
“I made this film to change the face of Alzheimer’s, to help other people and all the other caregivers that are out there. This film will resonate,” discloses Carter.
“[My mom’s been living with Alzheimer’s for] 11 years now,” she continues. “It’s a very long-[lasting] disease, and that’s another [reason] we need to shine a light on it because it’s bankrupting our health system… In ten years my mom lost all her savings… [So] thank God for places like the Jewish Home that take people on Medicare…but they can’t take everybody so we need to find a cure…it’s like Benjamin Button backwards. It’s…a very disrespecting disease.”
As to real world Norma’s response to the film, Carter’s answer is more than compelling: “So, my mom…she hasn’t seen the whole film. She can’t keep her attention on it long enough. However…I show her the trailer all the time. I say, ‘Mom, remember? I made a movie about you.’ She says ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because you’re terrific.’ And she says, ‘Well, that’s true!’ (laughter) And then just this last Sunday we did an interview with George Penacchio…a beautiful interview… He did an intense one-on-one with the two of us… I came home, flipped on the TV and there was big picture of my mom and me. And I thought ‘Oh she would be so verklempt to see this,’ and I recorded it. I brought it to her, and you know what…? She cried… she cried…and she said, ‘You…you…’ and so I did good. I felt good.”
In kind, the inevitable meeting between Harper and real world Norma was apparently nothing short of a most powerful convening of natural forces: “When [my mother] first met Valerie she sang, ‘You are so beautiful, to me…’ proclaims Singer, …”and Val just jumped right in and started singing with her! They held hands for an hour and a half.”
“Seeing her mom, meeting with her mom and learning from her…[was very helpful],” adds Harper. “She was not remarkable about what she was saying or doing, but she would go to music… She did wonderfully…and she would really remember people [that way and she would always] remember lyrics of songs.”
As the panel opened up for discussion, actress and comedian Geri Jewell, best known for her portrayal Blaire’s cousin Geri Tyler on the beloved sitcom, Facts of Life, had this to relay: “There’s a lot of fear associated with Alzheimer’s…and I know a lot of people personally who have [it]. And I have to say that…being a comedian…[who] was born with cerebral palsy…a[nother] condition that people are uncomfortable with…what you did with this film–and what I did with CP–is that you made people feel comfortable. It’s okay. You don’t have to be afraid. You can love and be a part of it, and that was so beautiful. I commend you for that!”
In echo to Jewell’s sentiment, Singer’s response was nothing short of compassionate, forward thinking, and inspiring: “Almost everything [in this film] was based on a true [story]…and most everything happened in one evening except for the first moment when my mom accused me of stealing a baby–which happened often… Everything was kept in there because it was really important to show both sides of the disease. And the message is to lean in; not to pull [it all] towards you. Because when I leaned into my mom, that’s when I got all the gifts, and there’s a hell of a lot of gifts you can get from people [who] have a disease, because other doors open…[and] if you don’t allow them the space to communicate with…the tools they have left…you’re going to miss it. So when something closes, other things open, and that’s what’s beautiful. That’s the story of meeting this lovely girl, this woman who was so conflicted about who she was. [Mom’s sentiment]: ‘All I see is a gorgeous woman. What are you talking about?’ And it was just so base, and so real, and…you don’t get that if you don’t listen; if you don’t lean into them.”
And when you lean in further, you may just…just maybe learn how amazing other people are all in the face of whatever dramatic life situation might throw at you: “I was embarrassed … I didn’t know anything about Alzheimer’s. Sometimes my mom was F-Bombing and other times she was like ‘Oh my God, you’re GORGEOUS!’ And the truth is, that so many people rise to the occasion. Even the valet parkers were like, ‘We love you. Your car’s getting detailed. Don’t worry about it [Honey]. We’ll have it back for you,” and everybody rose to the occasion. I really got to see the beauty in people, [along with] the caregivers and the cops that stopped…when my mom was [accusing Irlinda of abducting her] …It’s a village and that’s what’s so beautiful about it…”
As to any and all future plans revolving around the film and the cause, Singer’s disclosure was nothing short of inspiring: “I would love to do this as a feature, there’s so much more to tell. I would [also] love to do a sitcom based on this because there’s so much [to explore]…I think you can tell more stories and I think you can communicate [even] more through humor… I think we need to change the conversation about Alzheimer’s because a lot of people are abandoned because people don’t understand it. Families are afraid of it and I would like to change that purview…”
And, really, in light of that, who WOULDN’T want to watch such a sitcom or feature film?
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