If you are a young adult and plan to watch Otherhood, prepare to call your mom when the movie is over. If you are a mom with adult children and plan to watch Otherhood, prepare to call your kids and ask them why they haven’t called when the movie is over.
Otherhood, a new movie from Netflix, is about transitioning. The story is about three mothers (Angela Bassett, Patricia Arquette, Felicity Huffman) who are struggling with their place in the world. The three came together as friends as their sons grew up together. Now that those sons have grown up and left home for New York City, they rarely see their mothers. Nonetheless, their mothers still see each other and have an annual Mother’s Day tradition. The three woman get together to celebrate themselves. This year’s celebration is less fun than others, though, because their kids seem to have forgotten about Mother’s Day or, generally, don’t show any appreciation for it. While day drunk, the three women decide to road trip to New York City to ambush their children.
“Otherhood, a new film from Netflix, is about transitioning.”
We have seen this type of relationship before – the son and overbearing mother. What makes Otherhood different is the age of the sons. The three sons (Sinqua Walls, Jake Hoffman, Jake Lacy) are grown ups. They have recently graduated from college and their move to New York is still relatively fresh. They are out in the real world, trying to make their own lives. This is relevant to the story because it makes sense for the mothers to feel a sense of attachment. It also makes sense for the sons to feel a sense of independence. The film delves into this tension between wanting your kids to be independent, free thinkers, but also feeling like you know what is best for them. This idea – parents after they are done parenting, in a direct sense of the word – is something that is not often explored in film.
It wasn’t long before that they were going to their kids’ basketball games. It does not feel unreasonable for the women to feel a sense of loss for days gone by. Similarly, it does not feel unreasonable for the kids to desire their own lives. There is a need for balance between both that is not being found and that is largely where the conflict stems from. Movies like this hinge on being able to see the points of view from each character – understanding where they are coming from and why they are making the decisions that they are. Writers Cindy Chupack and Mark Andrus adapted this screenplay from a novel by William Sutcliffe. They wrote these characters in a way that allows us to empathize with them, regardless of who we may relate to more.
“Writers Cindy Chupack and Mark Andrus, who adapted this screenplay from a novel by William Sutcliffe, wrote these characters in a way that allows us to empathize with them, regardless of who we may relate to more.”
In addition to writing, Chupack is making her feature film directorial debut with Otherhood. Having previously worked on TV (Sex & the City, Everybody Loves Raymond, Modern Family) it seems like the transition to film makes sense. Chupack directs the relationships in a way that feels natural. Even if some of the scenarios seem far fetched, the relationships do not. Each mother and son have their own issues that they are struggling with and we explore each one in an honest and balanced way. The pairing that really stood out to me was between Arquette and Hoffman. Hoffman is going through a personal crisis and needs time to look inward. As his mother, Arquette feels like she knows best and tries to meddle when she shouldn’t. The issues between them feel more real than the others and the tension comes naturally.
Otherhood is not just a movie about mothers and sons, though. At its core, Otherhood is about friendship. Throughout the film we are watching three pairs of mothers and sons. While doing so, we are watching two groups of friends. The friendship between the three sons leaves a little bit to be desired. We only see them together in a handful of scenes and I honestly forgot that they were friends. Making up for it, is the friendship between the mothers. The three women really act as though they are friends and have been for a long time. They make each other laugh, they talk each other into doing things they shouldn’t, and they annoy each other. No matter what, though, they care about one another. Their friendship is fun to watch and the scenes where the three of them are together are some of the best scenes the movie has to offer.
“At its core, Otherhood is about friendship.”
While it is not perfect, Otherhood is an enjoyable movie. It is less about being a mother and more about having a relationship with your kid. It is healthy for kids to grow up and live independently. Similarly, it is healthy for mothers and fathers to worry about their kids as they do so. Otherhood helps us to understand what it is like to be on both sides of the relationship. Some character decisions are (intentionally) frustrating but it helps to show real, flawed people. Through a nice mix of comedy and drama, the film plays out in an entertaining fashion. You may find yourself laughing for the first 3/4 of it then crying for the last 1/4. I have a feeling that Chupack intended such an effect.