Cinéfranco 2016: Back to Mom’s (Retour Chez Ma Mère)

back-to-moms

Falling on hard times after losing her job, forty-year-old Stéphanie (Alexandra Lamy) has no other choice but to move back home with her mother Jacqueline (Josiane Balasko). A single mother, though her young son lives with his father, and an architect by trade, the usually independent Stéphanie sees living with her mother as merely a temporary stop gap. Unfortunately, her finances and pending legal case threaten to extend her stay for far longer than she would like. While more than willing to help her children in their time of need, her daughter’s presence puts a serious curb on Jacqueline’s romance with an old family friend who lives upstairs.

Waiting for a family dinner to break the news of her new relationships all three of her children, Jacqueline goes to great lengths to keep her affair a secret. Unfortunately, this raises unwanted suspicion from Stéphanie who believes that her mother’s strange behavior is a possible sign of Alzheimer’s. As both women quickly learn, when the rest of Jacqueline’s children arrive at the house, no secrets can stay hidden, especially when they are tied to long simmering emotions that are about to boil over.

While Eric Lavaine’s latest comedy, Back to Mom’s, offers some decent chuckles, most of the laughs come from observing the extremes in which Jacqueline will go to preserve her secret romance. She essentially becomes the true protagonist of the piece. Though Lavaine spends ample time on Stéphanie’s plight, one never feels like they can truly immerse themselves in her character. This is also true when observing how thinly written her siblings, Carole (Mathilde Seigner) and Nicolas (Philippe Lefebvre), are. Furthermore, the humour is often either too obvious or too safe to stay with the viewer once the film is done.

Where the film finds surprising traction is in its dramatic beats. It is here where Back to Mom’s turns into a rather interesting study of one family in need of moving forward, but have yet to properly deal with issues of the past. This is best encapsulated through Josiane Balasko’s wonderful performance, which is both funny and touching without ever feeling overly sentimental. The film would have been far more engaging had it delved into these themes further rather than wasting time with things like the subplot involving Stéphanie’s good friend, or the unrealized arc regarding the abrasive way Carole treats her husband. Back to Mom’s may not be the witty comedy that Lavaine is clearly going for but, thanks to scenes where the family gets honest about themselves and their lingering emotions, there is enough here to warrant a look.