The (Dead Mothers) Club premieres on HBO the day after Mother's Day in America, an airdate that is likely not a coincidence. I always rolled my eyes at all the "lonely" and "depressed" singles on Valentine's Day that would gripe about spending the day eating their hearts out or spending time in solidarity. Some people don't have mothers on Mother's Day, fathers on Father's Day, or grandparents on Grandparents Day, and you really want to blog about your issues with being single on a contrived day where elements of marketing and guilt dominate? Spare me.
The (Dead Mothers) Club is a documentary that will make you grateful to have your mother in your life or comforted through relatability by people who share your position if you don't. Despite headlining familiar names such as Jane Fonda, Rosie O'Donnell, and Molly Shannon, celebrities whose mothers died when they were all young, the film sets its main focus on common-people, one ready for college, another raising her young child, who have experienced tragedy with the lack of a female parental force to care for them.
One of the girls is Leticia, a clearly strong woman, whose mother died from a rare genetic mutation. Leticia is in the middle of raising a very young daughter when a test finds that she also had the rare mutation and that the flawed gene has spread throughout every cell in her body. She now has to put up the same fight her mother did and lost. Another girl we center on is Ginger, a wise, artistic young woman, who loves reflecting on her mother's personality and sensibilities. Her mother always worried because she was an art student that she'd never get the work she truly deserved. Ginger has found great success at painting and crafting stacking dolls and uses that as her means of income.
Finally, there's Jordyn, who is ready to enter college. A smart, beautiful young woman, she is definitely one of the most precocious teenage girls I've seen in a while, moved by legacy and persistency rather than impulsive behavior. She struggles to make the right decision about college without her mother's input.
Fonda, O'Donnell, and Shannon pop up every now and then to talk about their mother's impact and how their death affected them. Fonda's mom killed herself when she was twelve, and Fonda lived with that grief until she was sixty-four, when she realized it wasn't her fault after all. O'Donnell's mom died when she was ten, while Shannon's died in a car accident when she was only four.
Directresses Katie Green and Carlye Rubin refrain from milking sentimentality out of these stories, which is an element I've seen thankfully lacking in HBO documentaries. Despite films that bear titles and topics (IE: grief camps for children and a veteran in prison for life embracing his final days to name a few) that almost instantly make one tear up, these documentaries nicely avoid the sappier elements and exploiting certain situations emotionally.
It's often that I casually fault HBO's short documentaries for not being long enough and stating that many of them could easily be of feature length; The (Dead Mothers) Club, which runs at seventy minutes, give or take, could've easily been just as successful in its message with about thirty minutes trimmed off. The film begins to run circles around its ideas, and while we learn about the stories of the film's main characters, there's not much else we can say other than these are fine young women who are growing up without mothers and are likely going to make interesting, well-developed people. What about the young males who lack the female sensitivity and guidance in their lives? What about those who have become emotionally troubled without their mother in their life?
If The (Dead Mothers) Club had to be seventy minutes in length, horizons could've been broadened and alternate routes could've been taken to give more thematic resonance to these stories other than having the audience recognize that they are indeed unfortunate. However, because it takes a necessary topic and fuels it was material and substance that isn't directly geared to exploit its subjects and the sentiment at hand, (and, in turn, winds up being very personal and often moving) the film does possess considerable merit.
NOTE: The (Dead Mothers) Club will air throughout the month of May 2014 on HBO.
Starring: Jane Fonda, Rosie O'Donnell, and Molly Shannon. Directed by: Katie Green and Carlye Rubin.