All women become like their mothers.
That is their tragedy.
No man does.
– Oscar Wilde
That’s how Ken Wardrop opens his documentary Mom and Me. It’s a great counterpoint against the Freudian school of thinking that boys bond more with their mothers. The film itself is an admirable attempt to subvert both Wilde and Freud’s opinions on men and their mothers. Admirable because it’s interested more in its male subjects rather than their mothers. And what better men than those from Oklahoma, arbitrarily titled as the manliest state in the Union.
That distinction, however, makes some men realize that manliness separate them from the women in their lives. Wardrop’s Mom and Me thus chooses men who recognize the barriers between them and their mothers. It also shows a contemporary movement to break those down.
It’s funny that Wardrop chose to shoot his first documentary His and Hers in the Irish plains. For this film, his second, he chooses the American plains. I am usually weary of non-Americans making documentaries in America. Thankfully Wardrop doesn’t rely on American stereotypes. He finds the heart to make his subjects slightly sympathetic. I’m saying ‘heart’ although the film doesn’t transcend its fluffiness. But that quality helps Wardrop find the depth in his subjects.
And we find the subjects through a radio personality, Joe Cristiano. Cristiano discovers the ‘manliest’ title and his opinions on what it means. He relays his questions on air and finds like-minded people to call in about their own mothers. Some of his insights include him seeing his mother through her duties. He also recalls how mothers are above criticism. He also doesn’t remember his mom hugging him although he’s sure that she did.
The first insight is the most prevalent theme among his listeners. I find this dynamic problematic, seeing these men having mothers who still do stuff for their sons. These women don’t seem to lead independent lives. Relationships tend to bring power dynamics which would have appeared had Wardrop chosen to switch the subjects’ genders. But that’s what he gets when he chooses to depict relationships instead of individuals.
To be fair, one of the subjects has spina bifida. And when Wardrop switches subjects, the moms make their adult sons help them out in chores. Again, he finds subjects who are inherently interesting, who navigate Oklahoma life with their own circumstances. At least we have that here.