Alone in a darkened room, snorting, freebasing and smelling as bad as you look – why is it so hard to figure out the right way forward? The blinds need to be opened, the soap must be applied, and a vacuum cleaner should replace the cocaine cutting razor blade that rules your life. A non abuser certainly gets that sense upon peering in on Gordon’s bleak existence in Daniel James Dismuke’s Mama’s Boy. But the 20 minute short, which stars Dismuke as well as cowritten by Dismuke and Matthew Thomas, has no intentions of imploring the inflicted to pull on their bootstraps. Instead, the drama drills down so hard on the struggle that we feel all the emotional layers an addict is buried under, and in the end, the hope that there is a way out.
So inside Gordon’s small apartment, the Michael Licata score makes the oncoming drama seem like we are lost in the maze of an endless cave. At the same time, the weight that Gordon is saddled with is set by the darkened Ezekiel Kitchen cinematography, but Kitchen does periodically let in some glimmers of light to signify the possibilities. The first glance comes as Gordon dials up a little vinyl, and going into an old style two-step, Dream a Little Dream of Me by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong provides the number for the addict.
Even so, we are taken by surprise at the oddly placed moment. On the other hand, the digression begins our road to empathy, and conjures the only therapy that Gordon avails himself to.
Answering the call, Gordon’s mother (Jennifer Collins) enters as an apparition and a less than willing sounding board to all her son’s woes. A troubled addict herself, she’s quick to judge and seems to carry no guilt in trying to relieve her maternal failings. “You have to take responsibility for your own actions,” she insists
The dialogue damning enough, her rationalization really falls flat on the heals of Collins’ physical presentation. The disheveled look aside, Collins’ labored facial expressions and mannerisms capture a persistent denial that doesn’t hold water against the weight of so much deserved guilt.
An easy target indeed, Gordon then lays it on his mom. Let’s just say that her neglect makes Mommy Dearest look like June Cleaver.
And Dismuke really sells it – despite a lag in his delivery. In other words, the actor’s dialogue doesn’t quite convey the true power of the words on the page. But like his onscreen mother, Dismuke’s physical performance does more than enough work to convey his pain and the addiction he suffers from.
In fact, the performance is so powerful that this anti-mom becomes a sympathetic figure via his cruelty, and once she adds her story to his, Mom is a person again. One with feelings, flaws and unavoidable circumstance that situated her to the same pit.
He now seems less than human, and the unending cycle that addiction often references takes on this particular look. One of many infinite loops for the addict, the question is the same. How do the afflicted identify where the past ends and separate from where their responsibility begins?
Given all those that struggle with addiction, it’s no easy answer. But as the plot winds down, the pound of the piano keys become more pronounced and the searching sounds of the score feels more contained.
There is a light for Gordon and others. Mama’s Boy provides a baseline to start and if taken, this impactful film tells us the heavy lifting can begin.