Tripping: Selections from ND/NF 2013: TOWHEADS dir. by Shannon Plumb

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TOWHEADS

Shannon Plumb  (USA)

As mother creator, Plumb’s Penny already has superpowers, but she feels like a failure as an artist. Penny faces the futility and humility of being a mother living in Brooklyn with her two kids and unavailable husband.  Like Gena Rowlands, she shines continuously. Plumb can take any moment and turn it around to comic space and personal triumph;  “I Love Penny” instead of “I Love Lucy” . The challenge:  she can’t get out from under her role as wife and mother, nor rehearse her ideas or gain an audience. She works against the threats of loss of identity via play. She acts out when her sense of power seems lost in the world; using an unspoken “as if”, she encounters  the mundane by countering it character-“on”. The normal world, the promise of the win, the championship, is the storyline. We don’t have a trophy mom, but a mom who wants her natural birthright as an artist. Her kids are also her trophies. One of them gives her the hint to get superpowers: overcoming the fear of just doing “it”. The discovery of what “it” is leads the story.  Along the way, we are privy to the process of Penny’s daily development as an artist (or regression), which confirms that truth is stranger than fiction.  Penny’s transition out of stagnation, her challenge to get into characters, her surrender into motherhood, her development as an artist, her toil, her resolution/touchdown, is nothing other than a heroine’s journey.

Stylistic details are never lost on Plumb, like leaving a big tag on her character’s hipster coat. Physical gags are big: keeling over,  tripping oneself, silent film gags, Keaton, Chaplin. Changing identity, disguise, Cindy Sherman, audacity/tryouts for your own part, your own life’s stakes, is all included.

Plumb’s directorial approach is akin to Miranda July, and the French directors Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Noemie Lvovsky in self-creating a self-consciously winning comedic edge. Like the self-styled characters in those films, Plumb’s Penny is “not playing”, really not playing (plenty of winks), yet totally playing it up.  She is subversive, both as Plumb and Penny, with a madcap relationship to the camera. Her raison d’etre:  BEAT THE ODDS.  There is a continuous business of relating to the environment, whether a pole-dancing lounge, or her secret artist space where she locks herself in.

Anyone will break into an irrepressible grin on their face at some point whether they have children or not, and will also take profound delight in Penny’s parade of spontaneously created characters. Penny overcomes the sad oppression of her situation by getting into character and transcending reality.

Plumb terrific.

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