Even as an adult, there is never a good time to lose a parent. More challenging is losing a mother unexpectedly on the heels of a falling out. This experience is the basis for the new film Mouthpiece, which is based on a Canadian two-woman show of the same name, starring the two actresses, Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, who created the play together. There’s a twist, though. The story approaches the idea that in socialization, there are multiple aspects inside every woman; the one that follows rules, the one that takes the heat, the one that suffers in silence, the one with a chip on her shoulder, and so on. These aspects blend together, as none are exclusively one-dimensional, but they exist so women can live in relative safety while walking through the world. Because it’s exhausting to be a girl, yo.
In the film, directed by Patricia Rozema, the main character, Cassandra, is played by the two lead actresses, as alter egos.
Cassandra commits to writing the eulogy for her late mother Elaine, against the better judgement of the rest of her family. They worry it will reflect the recent negative experience between Cassandra and Elaine that ruined a Christmas gathering.
The Cassandras spend the 48 hours before the memorial sleepwalking, drinking, ruminating, and considering what to say as the oldest daughter to a woman who gave up her career to be her mother.
There are so many elements of the film that go to the heart of loss and the experience of grief. The use of music, particularly, really helps to create the atmosphere of navigating a world that feels like living between life and death, a feeling that goes hand in hand with the early experience of losing a loved-one.
Nostbakken is responsible for all the music, and indeed there are even musical numbers, complete with choreography, that happen in the film. They take place inside Cassandra’s head, as much of grief’s suffocating sadness does. Loss is the perfect experience through which to examine, whether onstage or onscreen, the artifice, the defenses, and the internal negotiations that are invariably part of modern womanhood. There is often a stripping away of our personal architecture with major upheavals, and this loss is no exception.
As the Cassandras, Nostbakken and Sadava work together, often mirroring each other in movements, sometimes taking point in a discussion or situation, always supporting each other, but in the way that indicates they trust no one outside themselves to nurture, protect, or lend aid to them in times of trouble. I reckon many women can relate to the feeling of being split, and having multiple aspects inside themselves to get them through their daily experiences, whether mundane or extraordinary.
Patricia Rozema is a storied and award-winning female filmmaker who has excelled at writing, producing, and directing, and is known as a standout of the Toronto New Wave movement. While the original play was produced with just the two women on a nearly bare stage, Rozema takes the production and expands not only the players but the environments, showing parts of Toronto and digging further into a Canadian aesthetic.
Mouthpiece is not an easy watch, especially for those still emotionally bruised by recent loss. However, films that capture grief with a female gaze are too few in number, and there is catharsis for film lovers willing to invest in a viewing. It will stay with you. It might even spur some inner inquiry. Isn’t that what good films should do?
4 1/2 out of 5 stars