Shannon Plumb’s Towheads is a hilarious look at being a mother in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Plumb writes, directs, and stars in the picture, and her real life husband, director Derek Cianfrance, and two children also star. Though this is a comedy first and foremost, there’s also bittersweet feeling to the film as Plumb’s character of Penelope begins to unravel and reach her boiling point.
The film starts with a scene involving Penelope attempting to push a stroller along with various other items through the streets of New York on her way to pick up her children from school. As she struggles with it, there’s a marching band tune playing in the background and we’re quickly made aware of the tone of this film.
It’s the type of comedy that starts off sparse, and gradually grows to a crescendo as Penelope begins becoming more and more erratic. The burdens of her life begin to consume her as she attempts to take care of the kids, clean the house, cook, and maintain her own personal identity. Her husband is rarely home due to his busy work schedule, and he may or may not be cheating on her. She knows she’s getting older, but her dreams of being a performer are constantly nagging in her mind.
The film is wonderfully shot and proves to be leaps and bounds above other comedies of this ilk. It’s a comedy that isn’t afraid to use artistic shots and angles and the narrative benefits from this greatly. One aspect that most will notice immediately, is that her husband’s face is always obstructed and never in focus or in frame. This is an obvious reference to him being an absentee husband, but it doesn’t cheapen the film, it feels right. Many of the camera shots speak for themselves and add to the quirkiness of the film itself. An example of this that was particularly funny involved a cut to a static camera shot poised behind Penelope as she plunged a toilet wearing sweat pants that say “Sexy” on the butt. It’s these small flourishes that make the film succeed on a comedic and artistic level.
As with most comedies, the big question is if it’s funny or not and thankfully this movie is hilarious. Plumb has a knack for comedy and it often times feels like she’s channeling Lucille Ball throughout the movie by mixing in equal parts physical comedy with witty dialogue. Though I can’t relate to a woman having a midlife crisis, the film does well in making us feel her pain and through that draw out the comedy.
While there are dramatic elements that occur in the final act, it doesn’t become sappy or completely humorless, as is the case with many comedies. We feel for Penelope and we like her as a character, so it was prudent to bring it down to a serious tone, even for a few moments so we can think of her as a real person rather than a caricature.
Towheads is a smart, funny, and expertly crafted comedy that has a lot of potential to become a sleeper hit this year. It’s down to earth and draws humor from the stresses of everyday life and that’s why people should be able to easily relate and enjoy this film.