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'The Dead Mothers Club' review: Star-power carries weight

Rosie O'Donnell, left, with her mother, from the

Rosie O'Donnell, left, with her mother, from the documentary, "The (Dead Mothers) Club." The film, premiering May 12, focuses on three women whose mothers died during their adolescences and reveals how coming of age without them continues to play out in their lives. The film includes Rosie O'Donnell, one of the executive producers, Jane Fonda and Molly Shannon speaking candidly about their experiences. Credit: AP

DOCUMENTARY "The (Dead Mothers) Club"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Monday night at 9 on HBO

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Mostly, we love our moms. Sometimes, we "hate" our moms. And what daughter hasn't felt both ways at once? So girls who've permanently lost that female parent have truly confused feelings -- often without the outlet or self-awareness, to express them.

"The (Dead Mothers) Club" opens that valve for 75 minutes. And out the feelings flood. Three ordinary young women whose mothers died early now let cameras track their own adult lives as they reflect that youthful loss -- as do celebs Rosie O'Donnell, Jane Fonda and Molly Shannon.

One New Yorker has a new daughter and the fear that she's passing on the BRCA genetic marker for the breast cancer that killed her own mother. A Southern artist and "human tornado" aches over losing her mom to gun suicide at a time the two were on tough terms. And an off-to-college student weighs her future path -- close-to-home California like her late mother, or far away for a "chance to be my own person" after playing mom to her younger sister.

As if mother-daughter relationships weren't tangled enough already, right?

MY SAY This first film from "club" members Carlye Rubin and Katie Green can be a slow-go as we get to know its three new faces. Their ongoing lives are intercut with comments from the three celebrity speakers, with whom we have a jump-start advantage.

The film's non-star subjects are also younger and more actively working through a fresher loss. We spend most of our time with them, yet seem to glean more from the older women, who are both more practiced at communication and more in tune with the reverberations of a death they've spent decades delving into. Commack kid O'Donnell, in particular, has frequently addressed her mother's early death and its breast cancer cause. (She's also one of this film's producers.)

Fonda is riveting discussing her mother's suicide, their preceding lack of love, and its impact on "the way I perceived myself." Shannon lost her mother in a car wreck in which three of her family members died and three survived -- including her, a circumstance that further ups the emotional ante.

BOTTOM LINE Star-power does carry weight.


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