Momma's Man is not a $12 movie. That's how much I had to pay to see it, but that's not the kind of movie it is. There are all kinds of movies, $100 movies, matinee movies, movies someone once told you about but you've forgotten, movies you always hear about and have a very precise but very imaginary idea of. There are bootleg movies and hand-me-down movies, home movies, and festival movies. I'm not quite sure what Azazel Jacob's movie is, but it's not a $12 one. I think it is closer to an old laserdisc sitting on your shelf, almost forgotten for a while and remembers at an off moment. Not quite VHS, not quite DVD, the film might be one you find playing at an unwitting second-run movie theater, where it will appear not as a revelation but as a friendly secret, finally revealed.
Jacobs' parents, Flo and filmmaker Ken Jacobs, appear in the movie as the parents of a young father who finds himself unable, unwilling, or not wanting to return home to his wife and child. The story is a shrug in order to allow Jacobs (junior) to film Jacobs (seniors), in an immense, claustrophobic apartment of junkyard density, primitive Rube Goldberg ingenuity, and Wellesian detail-in-every-screen-inch. But even the setting, like the story, becomes the background for the figures of Ken and Flo Jacobs. The two dance a dance of oscillating drama: Ken starts out as tragedy, in the background, before revealing himself as the comic of the film, while Flo's character, despite hints of illness, starts in an ephemeral, wispy kind of mothering comedy, before rhythmically descending with the same looks and manners to a startling sadness.
And then suddenly we're back again, Flo is funny and Ken is sad, and the film, like the parents, watch the couple's son take on a pudding-like existence as his youthful, malleable character and body have yet to understand either mentally or physically the way life is so funny and so tragic, usually in the same moment, in the same gesture, in the same body. But the film knows, it is its not-so-hidden secret, but a secret it hides as the existence of the film itself, destined to be found anywhere but a $12 movie theater, clearly deserving of something better, and a context far different.