My Mom and the Girl

By Susie Singer Carter | Drama
A jazz singer with Alzheimer's makes a connection with a trans girl.

When Norma wakes up in the middle of the night worried about her baby and accusing her grown daughter — the “baby” in question — of stealing it, she realizes it’s time for her to go to a home.

But the path to care isn’t easy, and in the meantime, there are other adventures to be had, especially since Norma hasn’t lost her love of singing, talking and generally having a good time. Despite her growing dementia, she still has an unmistakable joie de vivre and a strong will.

But when her stubbornness sends her out in the middle of the night when she stays over at her best friend and caretaker’s house, she collides with another woman — and shows that while she may have Alzheimer’s, she still hasn’t lost her capacity for warmth, love and compassion.

Based on a true story, writer-director Susie Singer Carter’s heartwarming, sweet-natured drama short is structured almost like a postcard from the past, with its affectionate voiceover mulling over past events laid over a multifaceted character portrait of a woman facing the abyss that is Alzheimer’s.

The story begins in a moment of crisis and realization, but unfolds like a narrative, introducing viewers to Norma’s life, relationships and character in a bright, sunny visual style that captures both the L.A. setting and the positive, empathetic tone of the writing and storytelling.

As a story that’s essentially a character portrait, it hinges on a great, compelling performance, given here by television legend Valerie Harper in one of her last performances before her death in 2019. The “Mary Tyler Moore” star creates a Norma who is vivacious, a little loopy, vibrant and lively, with a clear love of life and people that colors her every interaction.

That charismatic, boundless energy, though, can also make for spiky, abrasive behavior when Norma is lost and disoriented, and it’s heartbreaking and devastating to watch her struggle with her condition. So when Norma dashes off from her caretaker’s house into the streets of East Los Angeles, it’s hard not to worry — until Norma has a run-in with someone else who very much needs support and understanding.

“My Mom and the Girl” is light and cheerful in tone, though it doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of Alzheimer’s, both for the people affected and those who must care for them. And through its affection and buoyancy, it is also a beautifully helpful and hopeful film, despite the dire nature of its subject matter. It reminds us that though memories may erode and personalities can change in the throes of Alzheimer’s, many qualities of the heart and spirit — generosity, empathy and a general goodwill to fellow human beings — can still shine through and endure, living on through the loving memories of families and friends.

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