Some of the most successful films are slice-of-life films that tackle real life. When audiences see problems, relationships and lives uncannily reminiscent of their own unfolding on screen, it leads to the biggest impressions. These are the types of films that change people’s lives.
Unfortunately, the slice-of-life feature “Dating My Mother” is not successful in this way.
The film follows the lives of Danny (Patrick Reilly), a recent college graduate home from California, and his mother Joan (Kathryn Erbe) as they navigate the online dating world. As Danny grapples with his sexuality and his future and Joan faces a short-lived struggle to move on from her husband who passed away, the film surfs through a series of everyday events, laced with moments of sweet mother-son love.
The biggest problem with the film lies in the fact that the realistic lens director Mike Roma uses looks at the most boring aspects of everyday life. Rather than creating an authentic tale of unfulfillment through banter-style dialogue, a portrayal of real issues and a tasteful balance of drama and comedy, Roma created a film that is consistently melancholy as it surges through mundane events.
That is not to say that there are not attempts at powerful moments. The script embeds conversations about many crucial and deep topics: drug use, social media, grief, sexuality. Yet, because the film tries to tackle all of these topics, none of them result in thoughtful commentary or even lasting impressions.
Danny’s drug use is a recurring problem in the movie. When Danny and Joan attend a friend’s graduation party together and Danny gets high with a friend, Joan is disappointed in him. Again, when Danny smokes while Joan is on a date, she expresses her concerns about his safety.
While this might seem like something that could blossom into a fervent, touching interaction about dissatisfaction and parental concern between the two, the conversations they actually have are forced and extremely dramatic relative to the issue.
Danny, a 23-year-old man, is smoking pot every now and again in the comfort of his home. Joan’s overblown diatribe, exclaiming about how he could die and how it’s unhealthy, plays as a stiff overreaction. Erbe’s performance in these scenes is wildly too emotional when paralleling Reilly’s decision to portray Danny as monotonous and bored.
This carries over to the “climactic” fight between Joan and Danny. When Danny comes home tipsy and high, and Joan tells Danny that she and her boyfriend she met online said “I love you” to one another, things escalate. Well, they get slightly louder.
Danny launches into confrontation, telling his mother that online dating has been a breeze for her because she is straight. Here, the script broaches an important topic about the dichotomy between cis dating and LGBTQ+ dating. But as quickly as we approach the topic, it is lost just as fast by Reilly’s rigid, strained acting and the dialogue’s complete lack of momentum.
The film ends in a quickly resolved conclusion, with Joan happily continuing to date her boyfriend and Danny working on his writing and ultimately meeting another writer at the library. In a very “and it was all a dream,” hand-of-God ending, Danny tells his new love interest how he plans to write a script about a mother and her gay son struggling to find love.
“Dating My Mother” is not a terrible film. There are honest moments between a parent and her child, moments that might even make viewers smile at some points. The predictable ending is still warm, with Joan and Danny sweetly falling asleep in the same bed.
The film is harmless but unfulfilled. Secondary characters fall between the cracks, Danny is written to be too bitchy to be likeable and, even though Roma tried to plant struggle by making Joan a widow, she faces no real conflict throughout the entire film. Where the script sets itself up to be powerful, it falls flat each time with boring dialogue, pedestrian camerawork and an overarching sense of privilege that takes away from any poignant commentary.
While this slice-of-life film makes attempts to highlight the dissatisfactions of life throughout, what viewers realize is that the biggest thing we are dissatisfied by in this moment is the film itself.
Contact Maisy Menzies at [email protected].