Kelly and Cal is proof of why we need more women making movies. With films from men’s point of view constantly filling our screens, we rarely get to see these kind of stories. Written by Amy Lowe Starbin and directed by Jen McGowan, Kelly and Cal is an honest and thoughtful portrait of what it is like to be a mom for the first time.
Kelly and Cal stars the perfectly cast Juliette Lewis as an ex-punk rocker turned suburban mom. Life in the suburbs was not what she pictured for her future, but she loves her husband (who has become a ‘sellout’ exchanging his artistic aspirations for a job in advertising) and has just had a baby. Therefore, she is determined to make the best of her situation. But while newfound motherhood is supposed to be a glowing and happy time of discovery, Kelly finds that she doesn’t feel as happy as she should be. There’s never outright declarations that she has post-partum depression, but many signs are there.
Kelly tries to bond with her newborn but feels like she “sucks” and doesn’t have any motherly instincts. She tries to fit in with the local mommy cult at the park, but they are stuck up and obsessed with micromanaging the schedules of little humans who can’t even talk yet. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law give her a makeover that transforms her into a Desperate Housewives knock-off- which is definitely NOT her. Kelly also struggles with, what many new mothers are sure to go through, not feeling sexy after pregnancy or feeling wanted by your husband. Her husband says that he feels weird touching her breasts when right now they’re his son’s food bank. There’s even a scene, which I feel is so indicative to being written/directed by women, where Kelly decides to get the job done herself and whips out a vibrator.
Unhappy with her present, Kelly starts to feel nostalgic for her wild past and searches for something to fill her repetitive and lonely days. Kelly becomes friends with her neighbor Cal, a 17-year-old who is in a wheelchair. They bond over their shared rebellious streaks, the music they listen to, and their ostracized view of the world around them. Their connection is therapeutic until it ends up growing too close for comfort.
What I love about Kelly and Cal is that Kelly is never vilified for her struggles, she is not looked down upon for struggling with motherhood. The filmmakers show her struggles but also growing and learning to embrace them, all without sacrificing who she is at the core. They say “Yes you can dye your hair crazy blue if you’re a mom!” Kelly is a rock chick at heart who can still be an amazing mother just the way she is. We see Kelly bonding with her son who she loves, despite how hard it may have been to adjust. And that is what is most important about this film, this is a story that many women and new mothers can relate to. It is important for women to see this kind of story on screen, to let them know that they are not alone in navigating the complications of being a mother for the first time- which is truly no easy job!
Kelly and Cal is handled with a grown-up sensitivity that audiences can admire and appreciate, not only in the Kelly character but also with her husband as well. Together as fully-realized characters they discuss and communicate their relationship, and he is never portrayed as a dumb husband trope. Kelly and Cal is a smart and touching film, a simple but poignant story helmed by two marvelous women directors. I am so glad to see a story like this on the screen.
By Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 70s/80s era Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are her faves. She blogs even more about her film obsession at cinematicvisions.wordpress.com.