Filmmaker documents her ragged relationship with her mother, and it’s an emotional hit
By Emily J. Minor
Gayle Kirschenbaum’s childhood was not happy.
“My name was supposed to be Gary,” says Gayle, a New York filmmaker whose documentary Look at us Now, Mother! is showing this month in South Florida. “I heard that my whole life.”
Yep, her whole childhood, from her mother, over and over again: “Gayle was supposed to be a boy. Geez, was I surprised. I wanted a boy because we already had two boys. Her name was supposed to be Gary.”
On and on – and on – it went, well into Gayle’s adulthood.
Indeed, so difficult was Gayle’s upbringing – and so deeply affected were others in the Kirschenbaum household – that one of her brothers cries during an interview in the 86-minute documentary. “I just felt so bad for you,” he tells her.
But wait. There’s a happy ending here, and we’re getting to it this very instant.
Gayle and her mother, Mildred, who lives in Boca Pointe and is still – shall we say – a piece of work, get along now. Honest. “I’d have to say she’s my best friend,” Gayle says.
And how did this happen?
“I just got to the point where I wanted to know why this was the way it was,” says Gayle, whose first film, My Nose, was a short movie on her mother’s obsession for Gayle to get a nose job. (She didn’t.)
And she wanted to forgive.
So, there they went, the two of them, feet first into the deep end of the pool. (Well, actually, Gayle gave her mother a pretty mighty push.)
Therapy. Confrontations. Laughter. Tears. More therapy. More conflict. More laughter. More therapy.
Most of it, caught on film.
“To get your mother off your back, make a movie and let the whole world see it,” Gayle advises.
In the movie – which is honest, funny and full of brutal emotion – Gayle often pulls from her girlhood diary.
Mildred couldn’t stand Gayle’s nose. She hated her frizzy hair. She didn’t like the way her daughter dressed. She’d never liked her independent nature. “She was a bitchy little girl,” Mildred says in the documentary. On at least one occasion, Mildred made one of her boys hold down Gayle so she could rummage through her daughter’s belongings. And more, so much more.
As you can see – and surely you do by now – these were not easy wounds to heal. And for her part, Gayle’s emotions were often a cocktail of anger, bewilderment and belligerence.
But, in the end, there they are, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, going to therapy, traveling overseas together, talking on the telephone each day.
Laughing, and loving one another.
It’s wonderful to watch. And at independent film festivals, the movie is getting standing ovations and pretty swell reviews.
“I see Gayle through different eyes now,” Mildred says. “I know her differently.”
Says Gayle: “I think this movie shows what two people can do.
“Look at us.”
IF YOU GO
Gayle Kirschenbaum’s documentary Look at us Now, Mother! will play in four South Florida locations on Friday, March 25: Regal Shadowood 16, Boca Raton; Living Room Theaters FAU, Boca Raton; Movies of Delray, Delray Beach; The Last Picture Show, Tamarac. For information on times, visit lookatusnowmother.com and click on “Screenings.”