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Mom and Dad, he's home again

Filmmaker Azazel Jacobs casts his real-life parents in the quirky story of a man who won't grow up.

August 31, 2008|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

In FILMMAKER Azazel Jacobs' new movie, "Momma's Man," the director reveals an entire family of his own idiosyncrasies -- as well as his own idiosyncratic family.

Among his quirks are a deep connection to the past, so much so that he says he remembers turning 5 and instantly missing being a 4-year-old. Growing up in a cluttered home, he's just as attached to material things and, without a doubt, to the parents who raised him there. That's why he cast them as the parents in "Momma's Man," a Sundance favorite opening Friday.

"I am definitely somebody who has grown up around objects and things," he says. "Things seem very much alive to me."

It all served as a catalyst for the deceptively complex drama about Mikey (Matt Boren), a young married man with a baby daughter and a dead-end job who, on a visit to his parents (Ken and Flo Jacobs) in their expansive, cluttered loft in Manhattan, discovers that he can't bring himself to leave his childhood home.

As his wife back home in California leaves increasingly despairing voice mails for him and his quiet, artistic parents try to understand what's happening to their son, Mikey comes up with ever more excuses as to why he can't return to his adult life.

"I think the fun and the journey of 'Momma's Man' is what if you checked out -- what would be the reality of actually trying to step back in that place and visiting his best friend, hunting down his old girlfriend," Jacobs says. "I think the movie is about him coming to grips [with the idea] that there are certainly things to be treasured [in the loft], but there is also a new reality for him."

Jacobs shot the film in his parents' loft in TriBeCa, where they have lived for more than 40 years. He says their space is a mass of disorganized clutter -- newspapers, artwork and even broken umbrellas.

"That is how it's always been and it is how I like to visit," Jacobs says. "It is a place I want to document and hold on to. I knew I wanted to shoot the place."

It wasn't his intention to cast his parents -- his father is an avant-garde filmmaker and his mother is a painter. Professional actors, he was told, could help bring money to the project. "But in the end, I couldn't picture anybody else," he says. "I am so extremely thankful because they were game and they did it for me."

His parents took it all in stride, although Ken jokingly complains that his son didn't give him enough dialogue. "I would have liked to have ranted," he says, laughing. But he and his wife enjoyed playing slightly different versions of themselves.

"It was pretty easy and interesting to watch people making a movie and our son being wonderfully relaxed, humorous and enjoying what was going on," Ken adds.

And when the subject of the loft's disorder is mentioned, Ken says that, just like his son, he's really interested in things. "Things speak to me. My attitude is that, 'This is useful, we'll keep this.' "

But his wife has now laid down the law and is restricting his collecting.

"Nothing can come in without something going out," Ken says. "It's very hard. I have had to get rid of all my broken umbrellas I picked out of the garbage cans in New York. I suffer."



Azazel Jacobs' earlier films Jacobs' rise from film festivals

Azazel Jacobs, 36, won best short film at the 1997 Slamdance Film Festival with his college thesis project, "Kirk and Kerry." In 1999, he moved from New York to Los Angeles and enrolled in the directing program at the American Film Institute. While still at the AFI, he made his first feature, "Nobody Needs to Know," also starring Matt Boren, which had its world premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2003. Two years later, he premiered his second feature "The GoodTimesKid" at the AFI Film Festival.

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