Life Is No Joke When Your Kids Hate You
Imagine a story about a single mother with dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. Then imagine that the woman's dream miraculously comes true. That is essentially what happens in This is My Life, a new comedy from Nora Ephron.
Of course, life is never quite that simple and Dottie Ingels, played by Julie Kavner, experiences all the pitfalls of show business cum motherhood. First, her dream of stardom--which is shared by her two daughters, Erica and Opal--seems to bear little relation to reality.
But with the death of Dottie's Aunt Harriet, who spends her last moments on earth at a bargain basement clearance sale, Dottie inherits the money to make a new life. With this newfound freedom, Dottie moves her family from Queens to Manhattan and is off in pursuit of her dream.
While Dottie hits the comedy club circuit in Manhattan, Erica and Opal predictably struggle to adjust to their new surroundings. As Dottie enjoys her new life, the girls revel in their mother's success on stage and at the same time feel awed and threatened by her accomplishments.
Besides her trademark polka-dotted clothing, Dottie's success as a comedian is based on her ability to find the humor in the everyday. As the title suggests, Dottie uses material from her life to make her audiences laugh. This tactic in turn amuses and infuriates her daughters as they are at times embarrased by their mother's forthrightness in public.
Dottie earns a name for herself on stage, attracting the notice of a hip Manhattan agent, Claudia Curtis, played by Carrie Fisher. Claudia is more than just any agent as she works for Arnold Moss (Dan Aykroyd), the agent of all the big name comedians in town. In a hilarious scene, Claudia and Moss watch Dottie on stage, and Moss is so mesmerized by her antics that he eats his paper napkin.
Dottie's rise to stardom and her mounting family problems come to a head when she is booked at a renowned comedy club in Los Angeles. Erica and Opal must stay behind in the care of Dottie's aspiring comedian friends. Meanwhile, Dottie begins to appear on national TV in interviews. As her stay in LA lengthens, her daughters see more of Dottie on TV than they do in real life.
Even a visit to their mother in Las Vegas cannot stem the girls' growing resentment and pain at their mother's absence. To add to the turmoil, Erica and Opal discover their mother's burgeoning relationship with "the Moss," the term they use to derisively refer to their mother's agent.
At this point the movie loses some of its momentum as the mounting tensions surface fully. Dottie becomes aware of her daughters' resentment. She is angered by their apparent selfishness, for in her mind she has sacrificed all for them until recently. Dottie feels at once justified in pursuing her goals but also feels guilty for doing so.
Mother and daughters have been torn apart by the very dream they had shared for so long. When the girls attempt to run away to their estranged father, they realize their love for their mother. Upon their return, Dottie vows to work things out somehow.
But that somehow is not clearly delineated. Although the family dreams aloud about a TV comedy show which would enable Dottie to stay home with them, the audience can never know if this actually happens because the movie ends with this scene.
This unsatisfactory conclusion does not resolve any of their problems because Dottie still wants to pursue her dreams and her daughters still want her home. As she asked them earlier, "What can [she] do?"
This is My Lifeoffers some funny moments but does not develop its story or characters fully. The viewer is introduced to an endless array of characters, but these encounters rarely travel beyond mere introductions.
Dottie's various comedian friends, whose acts range from the hilarious to the ridiculous, offer some funny moments but add little to the movie's essential story of a mother's struggle to mix work and family.
Carrie Fisher superbly plays the role of the sophisticated and jaded Claudia. But even though Dottie tells the audience the two women have become fast friends, the movie offers no reason for such an affinity. Even Dottie's relationship with Arnold Moss comes out of nowhere and seems more like a thinly disguised device on the part of the scriptwriter to reveal the daughters' growing disapproval of their mother's new life.
But which life is Dottie's? The film shows both her working life and her family life and the conflicts which arise between the two. But the movie fails to offer a combined version of these two lives--satisfying the needs of both Dottie and her daughters.
The screenwriter and director's vision of working motherhood is one that describes its faults brilliantly and compassionately but offers few solutions. That's life for you.