Gayle Kirschenbaum's mother, Mildred, expected a boy when she gave birth to her daughter."I became pregnant with Gayle and in a magazine there was a saliva test and it was supposed to be 50 percent right. And it came out that I was going to have a boy, so we decided to name him Gary."
Gayle's middle brother, Robert, says his mother only wanted boys not girls, so it seemed as if Gayle wasn't welcomed. "Did that saliva test throw mom a curve ball and get us off to a bad start?" Such is one of many of the questions as to why Gayle felt she was born into the wrong family and what led her to create the documentary "Look at Us Now, Mother."
The unflinchingly honest movie explores a rocky mother-daughter relationship, Gayle's questioning from a very young age as to why her mother seemed to dislike her, and the journey Gayle and Mildred take together in an effort for Gayle to find forgiveness.Gayle shot most of the film herself and used decade of home-video footage that her father left behind. She also goes back to many of her teenage diary entries.
She says she never expected to make such a "deeply personal film" and had she known how difficult emotionally it would be, "I never would have done it."
"Am I ever going to be able to understand, forgive and cherish my mother before time runs out?" Gayle asks in the film.
Mildred, now 92, says that children don't come with a book of instructions. She tells her side of things in the movie, including the time she says she "once pulled a 'Mommie Dearest'" on her daughter when Gayle arrived an hour late after a date. "When I saw her drive up with a boy, I threw a glass of water in her face." Gayle continues recounting the story: " 'I don't care if you get raped, if you weren't already.' Then she had me go up to my bedroom, ripped everything out of my closet, then screamed at me to put it all back," says Gayle, now 60, about an experience that happened while growing up in Long Island.
"One of the reasons I might not have been nice to her as a child is that she was a bitchy little girl growing up," Mildred says with frank candor in the film.
But there is a mother's tenderness during our interview: "When Gail asked me about being in the film, I said 'fine.' I really never ask her to see it because I know how talented she is." The first time Mildred did see the film was at a screening with 100 people at NYU. "I was amazed at her talent and how she weaved the 8mm films into today's world. But Gayle's always been talented. I always thought she could do anything."
Through therapy, which Mildred agreed to attend with Gayle, missing pieces that had shaped her mother's personality were unearthed. On camera, Mildred casually and without much feeling tells the psychologist about her mentally ill father who tried to commit suicide and a little sister who died as a baby. She also recounts a story about her husband, Gerald, and how he was pushed aside when a younger sister is born into his family.
The idea for "Look at Us Now, Mother" came out of a short movie that played at festivals and won Gayle a best director award in a competition against big feature films. It was titled "My Nose" and it was about Mildred's campaign to get Gayle to have a nose job."I told my mother who had always wanted me to have a nose job that I would finally go visit a plastic surgeon for a consultation if I could have a camera crew there."
What makes "Look at Us Now, Mother" a documentary for anyone, not just mothers and daughters, but for anyone who has a mother, is the vulnerability that not only Gayle shows in the film, but that Mildred allows the camera to see, too."You were not going to be a little queen and your brothers pushed aside," Mildred says to Gayle on the therapist's couch in the movie. "Maybe I did go overboard."
Mildred and Gayle will be hosting Question and Answer sessions for the theatrical premiere in South Florida this weekend. See the showings with Q&As scheduled, click here.
Showings in South Florida
FRIDAY, MARCH 25: Theatrical Premiere South Florida (showtimes for the week March 25 - 31):
Movies of Delray
Daily at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 5:20 p.m. and 7:35 p.m.
Regal Cinemas Shadowood 16, Boca Raton
Living Room Theaters, Boca Raton
The Last Picture Show, Tamarac
Showings in N.Y., L.A.
FRIDAY, APRIL 8: Theatrical Premiere New York City (showtimes for the week April 8 - 14):
Village East Cinema
Daily at 11:50 am, 2:20 pm, 4:50 pm, 7:15 pm & 10:00 pm
FRIDAY, APRIL 8: Theatrical Premiere Los Angeles (showtimes for the week April 8 - 14):
Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica
Daily at 12:00, 2:10, 4:30, 7:20 and 9:55 pm
Laemmle Town Center Five, Encinco
Daily at 2:40, 5:00 and 7:30 pm
FRIDAY, MAY 6: Theatrical Premiere Long Island (for the week May 6 - 12):
Roslyn Cinemas (Bow Tie Cinemas), Roslyn NY
North Shore Towers Cinema, Floral Park, NY
Sag Harbor Cinema, Sag Harbor, NY
Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington, NY