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Tribeca Film Review: ‘Call Your Mother’ Arrives Just in Time for Mother’s Day

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2020 Tribeca Film Festival: As Mother’s Day approaches, we’re reminded of just how important mom is. Sure, it’s something we should think about, treasure, and value each day, but a holiday always helps. So too does the documentary “Call Your Mother,” a tribute to the family matriarchs who shaped untold numbers of comedians. Some of them, parental figures and all, are front and center in this doc, a warm and entertaining, if rather slight, effort.

“Call Your Mother” showcases a number of comics who can directly trace their personalities, as well as their senses of humor, to the influences of their various mothers. It’s a low-key work that nonetheless is able to make you laugh, and perhaps even make you cry. Most of that is due to the clearly loving, and often amusing, relationships that the pairs have. In some cases, the moms are even funnier than their sons or daughters!

The documentary looks at the relationship that a number of prominent figures in the world of comedy have with their mothers. For some, moms shaped the way they looked at life, inadvertently driving them toward this career path. Others were inspired by their perseverance. Most reference their mothers explicitly in their stand up acts, in both loving and sometimes exasperated ways. One in particular, comic Judy Gold, even plays old answering machine messages from her mother as a bit. No matter how they talk about this parental unit, it’s clear that a sense of love and support has been a big factor in their success. A late moment with raunchy comedian Jim Norton hammers home the lack of judgment that these women have often shown, especially when their sons and daughters have pushed the boundaries of good taste.

Other comedians like Louie Anderson, Awkwafina, Jimmy Carr, Bridget Everett, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Jim Gaffigan, David Spade, and Roy Wood Jr. show up, making largely the same points. Often, they’re shown actually with their mothers, allowing audiences to see the playful interactions between them. That proves to be a highlight, especially when some steal the stage, like Everett’s mom, for example. There’s also pathos at times, such as when Anderson talks about wishing that he treated her better in life, encouraging audiences to, you guessed it, call their mothers.

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Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady keep things simple, going the talking head and stock footage route. The comedians, along with their mothers, are consistently enjoyable, as well as enthusiastic, so the approach never falls flat. A brisk running time and a diverse group of comics keep the momentum going. Ewing and Grady are clearly hoping to inspire audiences to pay an extra complement to the women who raised them. Mixing in all of the comedy just allows the message to go down easier.

If there’s a major complaint to be found here, it’s that the same point is made over and over again. Now, the running time of under 80 minutes prevents monotony from setting in, but Ewing and Grady would have been better served mixing it up a bit. By the end of the first act, it’s easy to see what they’re going for. While new comics are introduced from time to time, nothing particularly new is learned. One just has to hope for something funny to pop up, and luckily, that happens fairly consistently. The amusement factor, mixed with the good vibes, saves the day.

“Call Your Mother” has a good lesson and takes a fun approach in telling it. Had the approach been a little more diverse, a better overall film would have resulted, but as far as documentaries go, it’s hard to get more pleasant than this one. Debuting this weekend on Comedy Central (on Mother’s Day, of course), the movie is a great option to watch with your mom, provided she has a good sense of humor, of course. Among the Tribeca 2020 slate, it’s the funniest of the documentary options, though admittedly there’s not much competition. If you’re looking to laugh, this will do the trick.

“Call Your Mother” will debut on Comedy Central on Mother’s Day, May 10.  

GRADE: (★★★)


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Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.


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