If you’ve ever confronted your parents about how they treated you as a child, you probably know how unsatisfying it can be. Those offhand comments that haunted you for decades? Forgotten. That overdue apology? Not exactly unconditional. Closure is a hard thing to come by.
The North Woodmere-raised filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum knows this, so she takes what she can get in “Look at Us Now, Mother!,” a small-scale but brave and very funny film chronicling her therapy sessions with her own difficult mother, Mildred Kirschenbaum. Actually, “difficult” is an understatement. Imagine going to counseling with a woman who fondly recalls the time she “pulled a ‘Mommie Dearest’ ” by dumping out your closet and flinging a glass of water in your face.
Clearly, Gayle has her work cut out for her. Mildred, in her early 90s and living in a Boca Raton retirement community, remains as sarcastic and critical as ever. She’s a highly skilled guilt-tripper and an Olympic-caliber nag. “Your nose is not going to improve,” she says, hoping to pressure her daughter into plastic surgery, a campaign that began when Gayle was 15. “Why aren’t you married? Are you afraid of commitment?” Yet Mildred can also be empathetic, supportive and fun. In one of the film’s best scenes, mother and daughter agree to double-date online and end up talking to what sounds like a swinger.
Mildred is the kind of archetypal Jewish mother who has fueled neurotic comedies from “Where’s Poppa?” (1970) to Woody Allen’s “Oedipus Wrecks” (in the 1989 anthology film “New York Stories”). She’s part of a dying breed, and Gayle is keenly aware of this. She wants to reach détente “before time runs out.” It’s to Mildred’s credit that, for her daughter’s sake, she drags herself to a counselor. (Ultimately, two are needed.)
“Look at Us Now, Mother!” lacks the kind of explosive or harrowing revelations that make for truly gripping memoirs, but its honesty is impressive and its warmth infectious.
(Gayle will attend select screenings at local theaters through Tuesday.)