Some films pull on your heartstrings in a cloying, annoying way; however, The Other Tom is the rare tear-jerker that earns your tears. It’s a story about so many things, especially about America.
When the film opens, Elena (Julia Chávez) is attempting to navigate life with her nine-year-old son Tom, played by Israel Rodríguez Bertorelli. Tom is a sweet kid who is prone to erratic outbursts, and Elena is a solo mom who receives, who help – financial or otherwise – from Tom’s dad. Elena fields thinly veiled threats from the boy’s teacher. So she agrees to put the boy on a cocktail of medicines to manage his ADHD. But when Tom experiences profound side effects from the drugs, she decides to halt her child’s new regimen; that’s when Child Services threatens to take Tom away.
Admittedly, the script occasionally veers into the territory of Mother Blame; Elena’s mothering abilities are regularly criticized by everyone, from employees at her son’s school to Tom himself. And no one gives the young woman kudos for how she keeps her family afloat. However, the chemistry between Chávez and Bertorelli is so real. You buy their tense but strong family bond. It’s The Other Tom‘s nuanced exploration of a mother/son relationship during a time of turmoil that gives the film its heart and its bite.
Ultimately, The Other Tom is a thoughtful feature about a parent trying to follow her instincts and a culture that makes doing so a battle for racialized, working-class women.
Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Refinery29, Elle Canada, Flare, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-founder of The ProfessionElle Society. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about parenting, politics, and The Bachelor.