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“Stage Mother” Is A Dramedy That Doesn’t Leave Enough Of A Lasting Impression

Giving a leading role to Jacki Weaver is something any filmmaker should be commended for. The veteran actress is a welcome presence anywhere, no matter the topic. Casting her as the lead in a fish out of water type dramedy? Well, that should be the main ingredient to a delicious cinematic dish. Unfortunately, Stage Mother ends up more like a fast food dish when you were hoping for fine dining. Does it mostly get the job done? Sure, but it also doesn’t particularly satisfy you. The premise, along with Weaver’s talents, ultimately keep this from being something that leaves an impression on you. Opening this week, it’s a missed opportunity for something wonderful.

The movie is a dramedy, focused on a southern woman evolution in the Bay Area. When Maybelline (Weaver), a conservative, Texas church-choir director finds out that her son Rickey (Eldon Thiele) has passed away from a drug overdose, she’s devastated. Discovering that she’s also inherited San Francisco-based drag club Pandora’s Box, she’s surprised. However, she out and out shocks her simple husband Jeb (Hugh Thompson), along with just about everyone else she knows by not selling the property off. Instead, she heads to California on her own, with a mind to save the club from bankruptcy. Initially quite put off by this environment, she slowly begins to embrace it, becoming a mother figure of sorts to the club’s many flamboyant performers, while also seeing a potential second act to her life. Bonding with Rickey’s best friend Sienna (Lucy Liu) and his partner Nathan (Adrian Grenier), Maybelline is more at home than she ever could have guessed. Of course, third act surprises will threaten this, but that’s kind of a requirement for a story of this sort. Thom Fitzgerald directs a screenplay by Brad Hennig, with music from Warren Robert, as well as cinematography by Thomas M. Harting. Rounding out the cast are Allister MacDonald, Calem MacDonald, Oscar Moreno, Mya Taylor, and more.

Everything about this film is fine. That’s the problem, however. It’s all just fine. The flick is occasionally charming, but often stale. It’s sometimes funny, though the humor doesn’t always land. Jacki Weaver is solid, though the rest of the cast is under-served by the material. Thom Fitzgerald’s direction and Brad Hennig’s writing are wildly inconsistent, with pacing that suggests a project double this one’s 90 minute or so length. It all just goes like that, and that’s not how you make a winning picture. No one here crafted a bad one, of course, but it only hints at what could have been, and that’s undeniably a disappointment to see.

Stage Mother has a strong message about tolerance and loving your children for who they are, there’s no denying that. It’s just a shame that some of the characters here, especially Jeb and Nathan, are so thinly written that the message doesn’t come across as effectively as Fitzgerald and Hennig had hoped for. The cast do their part, but they can only do so much. Weaver is largely successful, and that’s great, but it’s not enough to save this one from being a let down. If anything, she shows the promise that existed here when the idea was first conceived.

This weekend, Stage Mother offers an occasionally charming dramedy that just should have been so much more. You can’t go too wrong with a Jacki Weaver star vehicle, but again, it’s fine when fine is simply settling here. If that’s going to satisfying you, great. For me? It was not enough, leaving me more than a bit let down. Your mileage may vary.

Stage Mother hits screens on Friday.

(Photos courtesy of Momentum Pictures)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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