Trading Mom

1994 Directed by Tia Brelis. Starring Sissy Spacek, Maureen Stapleton, Anna Chlumsky, Aaron Michael Metchik, Asher Metchik, Merritt Yohnka, Andre The Giant.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 11, 1994

Any kid who has ever wished his or her nagging mother gone ought to enjoy the logic of Trading Mom. When their working, single-parent mom (Spacek) bugs them to get out of bed on time for school, clean the fish bowl, wear the clean t-shirt instead of the one in the laundry pile, tidy up their rooms, etc., Mom earns the distinction of being perceived as the cruelest mother on earth. This movie works on kid logic, not grown-up sensibilities, so your reactions might vary according to your age. In strictly psychological terms, Trading Mom unleashes an abundance of “kid id,” the kinds of concerns, fears and resentments that only the very young experience. The three kids in this story see themselves saddled with an unreasonable mom -- a tyrant with a clean fetish, an enemy of fun and pleasure, a wicked beast who lives to deflate and destroy. They'd be much better off without her, they surmise. When the strange old woman they perform garden chores for hints that `the ancients” had ways of trading moms in at the Mommy Market for more desirable models, these three kids are all ears. What's more, you can not only make your mom vanish, but you also remove all memory of her being. This movie began life as a book by Nancy Brelis and was adapted into a screenplay and directed by first-timer Tia Brelis. Some of what I like about the story are things that I suspect might play better in the mind's eye of the written page than on the literal and demystifying movie screen. The kids' amorphous anxieties, the pronunciation of a few syllables of Latin is all it takes to make a mother disappear, the pompous buffoonery of the school principal, the fact that no one in the community notices that these children have a whole string of successive mothers… this is all more book material than film material. But then, sequences like the elaborate imagining of the Mommy Market as some weirdly chaste flesh bazaar are the godsends of this movie. Spacek has a fun time in four different roles in this movie -- as the real Mommy and all the substitutes. It adds a level of fascination to those in the know and perhaps a level of belated insight to those who might have been unaware of the many facets of Mom. As the eldest child, Chlumsky delivers another characteristically fine performance. But two of the performances get in the way of the action. Stapleton's old woman is played in a nearly comatose fashion and the youngest child is -- well, let's just say that he's no actor. Few things kill the illusion of a movie more than bad child acting. Trading Mom has the feel of an afterschool special and we'd be better off if the movie stuck to that goal. At numerous points, the movie feels filled out and stretched to reach feature-length running time. Still, this may be the right movie for your family if you happen to have kids who occasionally think they hate your guts. Besides, the movie is test-screening in Austin before a national release later this spring.

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More Sissy Spacek Films
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Robert Redford has rarely shone more than in this true-crime tale

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The Help
Based on a bestseller, this Southern civil-rights era story about white women and their black maids is saved by the film's deeply moving cast.

Kimberley Jones, Aug. 12, 2011

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
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Jan. 8, 2021


Trading Mom, Tia Brelis, Sissy Spacek, Maureen Stapleton, Anna Chlumsky, Aaron Michael Metchik, Asher Metchik, Merritt Yohnka, Andre The Giant

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