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Even by indie film standards, Theresa Is a Mother is a family affair. The titular role is played by C. Fraser Press, who also wrote and co-directed the film with her husband, Darren Press. The couple’s three children play fictional counterparts in the film, and one daughter wrote and performed the theme song. This is clearly a clan who believes in playing together.
The resulting film, while having a rough-hewn feel, emerges as something more substantial than a simple homegrown project. The quirky dark comedy centers on Theresa, a forty-something single mother of three whose career as a vaguely punkish singer-songwriter has not paid off. Facing eviction from her city apartment, she packs up her young daughters — Maggie (Schuyler Press), Tuesday (Maeve Press) and Penelope (Amaya Press) — and returns to her rural hometown, where she plans to live temporarily with her parents (Edie McClurg, Richard Poe), with whom she has a strained relationship.
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Cue the quirkiness, as the folks Theresa remembers as emotionally distant are now fun-loving hipsters who enjoy hosting hot tub parties. Theresa, unable to find employment, is reduced to wandering the neighborhood asking for odd jobs, causing her to compete with 13-year-old Seth (Matthew Gumley) for yard work. Undercutting the boy on price, she’s confronted by his father, Jerry (Robert Turano), a bank official who had turned her down for work. She doesn’t bother to correct him when she realizes he assumes one of her daughters was the culprit. He then asks her, out of the blue, to write a song for Seth to perform at his bar mitzvah.
Theresa, meanwhile, has her hands full as a parent, with one child donning a Carmen Miranda-style headdress and lip-syncing to drag queen videos and another obsessed with a television cooking show with heavy religious themes.
None of this rings remotely true, but it has an emotional resonance nonetheless, largely due to Press’ vanity-free performance as the frazzled and neurotic single mom who can barely take care of herself, let alone her brood. Reliable veterans McClurg and Poe provide excellent support as the parents traumatized by a past tragedy, and the child performers go through their often outlandish paces with admirable professionalism.
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Truly offbeat in its pacing and willingness to veer off on eccentric tangents, Theresa Is a Mother doesn’t always succeed in its stylistic ambitions. But it does present a psychologically rich portrait of its central character, who elicits a bizarre fascination.
Production: A May Sky Picture Entertainment
Cast: C. Fraser Press, Richard Poe, Robert Turano, Matthew Gumley, Schuyler Press, Maeve Press, Amaya Press, Edie McClurg
Directors: C. Fraser Press, Darren Press
Screenwriter C. Fraser Press
Producer: Darren Press
Director of photography: Alex Kornreich
Editor: Chad Smith
Costume designer: Lauren Oppelt
Casting: Cindi Rush
Not rated, 105 min.
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