VOD film review: Mouthpiece
Unnecessary music numbers5
Bianca Garner | On 12, Mar 2021
Director: Patricia Rozema
Cast: Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava, Maev Beaty
Grief is always a difficult subject to tackle in film. How does a filmmaker capture the emotional turmoil that the grieving individual is experiencing? It is complex and unique for each person. It also the subject for Patricia Rozema’s Mouthpiece, originally a play by Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Both Norah and Amy return to this film adaptation to star as the grieving Cassandra who has just lost her beloved mother. Yes, you read that correctly: both women play the same character. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does and it makes for a compelling examination of one’s inner monologue.
Cassandra is a 30-year-old woman living in Toronto, who is chasing her dream of becoming a writer while simultaneously trying to hold on to the party life of her 20s. When we first meet her she’s making her way back home after a night of partying and getting drunk. She ignores a phone call from her mother Elaine (Maev Beaty) and falls asleep. The next morning, she wakes up hungover and receives the bombshell that her mother has died of a stroke. Suddenly, Cassandra needs to assist in planning the funeral, flowers, food, and eulogy. However, the buried memories of her relationship with her mother, and feelings of remorse and resentment, come bubbling up to the surface.
Mouthpiece is an interesting study of society’s expectations of womanhood and motherhood. As the narrative unfolds, we discover through flashbacks that Elaine gave up her writing career to look after Cassandra and her younger brother. In one sequence we see the young Cassandra (Taylor Belle Puterman) observing her mother dropping her notebook into a pot of soup after she was rejected for her writing. Mouthpiece reminds you of the importance of second wave feminism as well as the sacrifices that many mothers have had to take in order to bring up their children. (In 2021, this still remains the case with fewer than one-in-five of all new mothers, and 29 per cent of first-time mothers, returning to full-time work in the first three years after maternity leave.)
At first it can be quite distracting to have both Sadava and Nostbakken playing the same role. However, slowly you adjust to this strange set-up and realise the genius of this decision. The character of Cassandra is complex and, in that respect, very real. If you simply accept that this is one character and go with it, you find yourself being absorbed by her world.
At times the film’s tone wobbles and shifts abruptly from hard-hitting emotional drama to black comedy. In certain scenes, this shift works. In others, it feels a little amateurish and unnecessary. For example, the musical numbers that take place feel gimmicky and out of place, failing to hit the right note. They lack a certain level of grandness, which means they feel rushed and small in scale. Certain comedic lines of dialogue also fall flat and one doesn’t know whether to laugh or wince. Some supporting characters, such as Cassandra’s Aunt (played by Paula Boudreau) and her friend Roxanne (Jess Salgueiro), feel a little underdeveloped, although both actresses deliver good performances. Another point to add is that certain feminist topics, such as society’s expectations of women (what they eat, how they dress, etc.) are touched upon but aren’t fully explored. All in all, the film works best when we focus on the relationship between Cassandra and her mother. And it is during these scenes that we see the actresses shine.
Overall, Mouthpiece is a compelling exploration of the grieving process as well as an in-depth investigation into what it means to be a woman and how unfair society’s expectations are of mothers. The film feels a little too scattered and hard to follow, but the performances from Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken will keep you transfixed.