• FemmeCritic

Stage Mother -- Grade C

This oh-so-earnest dramedy is saved by performances from powerhouse actresses Jacki Weaver and Lucy Liu.

Despite my high hopes for a gritty, clever little indie film showcasing FemmeCriticFave #LucyLiu in a supporting role, Momentum Film's Stage Mother turns out to be way too tame and old fashioned to fit into that particular description -- though the marvelous Jacki Weaver (an Oscar nominee for Animal Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook) does play the hell out of Maybelline Metcalf, a Texas choir mistress whose estranged gay son Rickey dies from a drug overdose.

Maybelline arrives for the funeral and learns Rickey's left her his beloved San Francisco drag club. Well, wouldn't ya know, she takes to the drag scene like a little ol' duck to water, leaving her bigoted blank-faced husband behind to play singing teacher and fairy godmother to her late son's friends and significant other (Adrian Grenier, a total dud).

The ever-liuminous Lucy Liu, of course, sparkles in her few scenes as Rickey's foul-mouthed best friend Sienna, mom to an adorable infant, who offers Maybelline a couch to sleep on, and Jackie Beat makes a strong, too-short impression as Rickey's drag mom Dusty Muffin.

But this is the kind of retro story where Maybellline solves everyone's problems with a wave of her wand -- sure, a drug addict is just going to give you her stash and immediately go sober, and all it takes for a mother to reconnect with her son is a heartfelt song. I mean, the drag acts are dreadful and even the costumes and sets were terrible (does every drag queen have to live in a tiny, cluttered apartment?). And whoever put Lucy Liu in mismatched Goodwill ensembles should have their union card confiscated.

The liuminous Lucy Liu adds a comic touch.
The liuminous Lucy Liu adds a comic touch.

Even the song-and-dance numbers were underwhelming -- and there's absolutely no excuse for that in the age of Pose and RuPaul. In fact, the whole endeavor seems stuck in a non-descript, down-market unspecified past in which no one's ever heard of Queer Eye -- either incarnation.

Despite its inconsequential story by Brad Hennig and pedestrian-at-best direction from Thom Fitzgerald, Stage Mother does manage to land a few zingers, courtesy of Weaver and Liu (whose world-weary comic timing is unmatched and on fine display here). But the whole enterprise is just so harmless and inoffensive -- which maybe is no surprise, considering that it comes from Canada.

There are so many missed opportunities here -- Maybelle is far too spunky not to have stood up to her asshole hubby years ago, and speaking of spunky, I don't buy for a minute that Sienna would let herself get into the dangerous second-act situation she's forced to contend with. But if you're after a sweet, easy-to-digest quarantine treat, you could do worse than this one for $5.99 on most major streaming services.