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Television Review

'Moms': Compassionate Gift From PBS

May 08, 1999|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Funny, poignant and inspiring, edgy and even shocking: Sunday's multilayered PBS special, "Moms," is no schmaltzy Mother's Day bonbon. Created by award-winning producers Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker, this rare documentary is an eye-opening journey into motherhood's complex emotional landscape: heart scraping, ego shredding, guilt inducing and deeply, profoundly rewarding.

The tour guides are 50 real mothers, from first-timers just beginning to realize what they're in for to veterans, some of whom show their battle scars in tight-lipped smiles and painful tears.

They share their experiences in stunningly intimate dialogues and in filmed slice-of-life scenes with their offspring.

One mother lauds her argumentative adolescent daughter's independent spirit but is clearly exhausted during their trip to the mall, an excruciating, nonstop clash of wills.

A serene younger mom of three is in stark contrast to the rigid mother of six who runs her no-nonsense household like a drill sergeant, barking orders at her tightly monitored brood. "I keep them directed," she says, while the shuttered face of her eldest son speaks volumes.

One woman observes that to be a mother "forces you to confront what's best and worst in your own nature. You have to be generous beyond your ability to imagine generosity [and] you find yourself cranky and cruel beyond your lowest expectations."

The mother of a mentally handicapped teenage boy uses laughter as a survival tool--and her penchant for wackiness embarrasses the heck out of her younger daughter. The women talk about their experiences giving birth--no, women don't forget the pain. It's more accurate to say that the miraculous result often takes precedence. They talk about how they do or don't communicate with their children, the kind of punishments they've doled out and about their own experiences as daughters.

Throughout, musical accents and telling quotes going all the way back to ancient Egypt are used to witty effect. You'll be amused, touched and sometimes appalled, and if you're a mother, you'll find a lot to relate to; for would-be moms, this revealing hour should be required viewing.

* "Moms" airs on KCET, Sunday, 6 p.m. (repeats, 11:30 p.m.). The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14).

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