The dawning of the online dating era has left directors struggling to make the sight of two people staring at their phones and swiping right feel narratively interesting, or look even the slightest bit cinematic. The very invention of mobile phones has made many stories harder to tell, as the answer to all your problems can often be found in your pocket – and when it comes to telling a realistic romantic story in the post-Tinder age, translating an online meet cute into a compelling moviegoing experience is arguably one of the hardest tasks. Who would have thought that advances in technology wouldn’t leave the world looking more like a science fiction movie, and instead leave films struggling to depict its mundanity in a way that catches the eyes of moviegoers?
This is where Dating My Mother comes in. Mike Roma’s assured directorial debut is primarily a family drama, where a mother and son’s relationship is contrasted with their online dating accounts – something he manages to make visually exciting, with very few scenes of characters staring at their phones. The film is a charming and instantaneously likeable character comedy, that is taken to the next level due to the visual sensibility the low budget production has been blessed with.
Patrick Reilly stars as Danny, an aspiring screenwriter who has moved back from LA to his hometown while in-between jobs. His relationship with his mother Joan (Kathryn Erbe) is insanely close; the pair do everything together, including sleep in the same bed – although this is because of how lumpy Danny’s childhood mattress has gotten. Joan is mourning the death of her husband, and makes the brave step towards signing up to an online dating site. Danny, meanwhile, is uninterested in relationships and highly awkward when it comes to meeting guys on a hookup app. After meeting up with his old, straight high school friend Kris (Michael Rosen) he quickly develops a crush, which becomes a problem equal to his constant inability to find a paying writing job.
Danny’s time spent on the Grindr-style app is visually displayed via random strangers appearing and speaking to him, and director Roma manages to utilise these sequences for maximum visual humour. When he receives an unexpected dick pic at a temp job, for example, the shock and awkwardness is amplified – and timed to comedic perfection. These encounters are increasingly depicted as reckless and unstable, whereas his mother’s experience with online dating is shown to be the exact opposite. It may seem a little far fetched that she’d meet a well suited new partner straight away, but again, the concept of online dating is taken advantage of as we never see the conversations she has with her new partner- leaving us as in the dark as Danny, albeit without the disapproval he instantly feels.
Danny’s storyline is based around the red herring of him trying to avoid infatuating over a straight friend who a weaker film would eventually reveal to have been closeted the whole time. Dating My Mother effortlessly sidesteps that, exaggerating the awkward tension between the pair as they hang out more. Eventually, Danny’s storyline proves to be the mirror of his mother’s, as he eventually finds happiness where he thought it couldn’t be found – long after half heartedly chasing some emotional connection that could never happen.
Patrick Reilly is superb in the lead role, nailing the offbeat comic rhythms of the writer/director’s screenplay. He manages to make the character likeable, even if he behaves like the un-self aware, overly privileged caricature he at one point derides another character for being. But the performance really sings in the moments spent with Kathryn Erbe as his mother; a written description of their close relationship makes it sound like its bordering on Norman Bates territory, when in actuality, there’s a sweetness that the film never chooses to undermine or play for laughs.
Dating My Mother isn’t quite a romantic comedy, or a family drama – but it is extremely charming, warmly funny and in possession of one of the best mother/son relationships in recent cinematic memory.
Read our interview with director Mike Roma