On its official website, Mother of All Shows is described as a Mother / Daughter Traumedy, and that’s a wonderful description for Melissa D’Agostino’s first feature.
For those of us navigating the fraught waters of how to deal with narcissistic parents or negative body image, not only will this resonate, but there’s healing and redemption in there, too. Mother of All Shows was written by Melissa D’Agostino and David James Brock and directed by Melissa D’Agostino and Matthew Campagna.
Liza’s (Melissa D’Agostino) mother, Rosa (Wendie Malick) is dying – and the only way that Liza has to deal with that impending fact is to take solace in her mind – where it’s all a 1970’s variety show that is hosted by her mother. People from her past and present – including her supportive and doting boyfriend Alan (Darryl Hinds), her father (Michael A. Miranda), her cousin (Tarah Consoli), and her high school boyfriend (Phil Luzi) – are all paraded through the segments in her mind, complete with period-appropriate commercials for products like “Shame Flakes.”
The film tells the story of their complicated relationship through the medium of the variety show, and the sparkling costumes and poppy scenery belie the emotional traumas Liza is working through. In one ‘Mating Game’ segment, Rosa castigates Liza for choosing Alan. In another cooking segment, Rosa mocks Liza’s appearance – from her choice of dress to her weight, even as Liza literally asks her for body kindness.
This funny musical brings some big feelings with it – people who have had to go no contact with narcissistic family members will find Liza’s conversation with her cousin during a ‘Christmas Shopping’ sketch all-too-familiar. Those who have had to deal with difficult parental relationships will be moved by an animated sketch.
But what is really happening is that Liza is trying to decide if she should reach out to her mother in the long-term care home where she resides, or if she can see her mother without losing herself in the process. Alan, her supportive and loving boyfriend, affirms that when Liza did interact with Rosa, it caused deep depressions that were painful to witness.
I really enjoyed this movie, and was moved to tears by a couple of sections because of how much Liza’s story (and her emotional growth) moved me. Everyone seemed to remind me of someone I knew, and the situations very much resonated with me because of my own history with a narcissistic parent. But the beauty of Mother of All Shows is that though the film deals with heavy topics, it does so in such a light fashion it’s never weighed down. Part of this has to do with Melissa D’Agostino’s performance – Liza is witty and strong, and though she deals with self-doubt, it’s obvious that she has been working through the issues that we bear witness to throughout the film. She conveys the dichotomy of Liza’s growing confidence and her insecurities – all while tap dancing and singing.
Wendie Malick as Rosa is engaging, funny, cruel, and oh-so recognizable as a talented but narcissistic mother who can’t understand why her daughter won’t just do the things she wants. Her performance is both counterweight and foil to Liza, yet Malik brings sensitivity and depth to Rosa, and as she talks about the impact of generational trauma, we’re able to glimpse a bit of Rosa behind her barbed exterior.
Darryl Hinds is amazing as Liza’s supportive boyfriend, Alan, and as a member of #TeamLiza I’m very happy that she has someone like him at her side. Tarah Consoli creates the right mix of funny and abrasive as Liza’s cousin, Lisa, who has remained close to Rosa and feels slighted by Liza’s boundary-setting. Their relationship brings more heart-breaking context to the choice that Liza had to make to set boundaries and go no-contact with her mother. Michael A. Miranda’s performance as Liza’s dad helps us understand just how things got to this point.
Mother of All Shows is surreal, laugh-out-loud funny, emotional, complex, and bold. Its premise is clever and gives a catharsis to Liza and us as an audience, even when life doesn’t always give easy answers. If you enjoy comedies that speak to our deeper emotional experiences, have ever watched and enjoyed 1970’s variety shows, or enjoy heartfelt stories told in innovative ways – this is well worth your time.
Mother of All Shows will be screening as the opening night film at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, and you can follow here for more information on where to see it next!