Sunday, September 16, 2007


As this film started, my DVR was not properly recording the Sox-Yankees game. Comcast picked a very bad weekend to flake on me.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 September 2007 at AMC Boston Common #17 (Boston Film Festival 2007)

That Mo got made is something to admire, at the very least. Making a feature film is no easy thing, and even though the subject clearly means a lot to director Brian Lederman, it takes more than one person's commitment to get it done. It's still plainly his film about his little brother, and it's both as big-hearted and (perhaps) overly-close to the subject as you might expect.

Matthew "Mo" Lederman (Erik Per Sullivan) was born with an ulcer and club feet, and various other medical problems would plague him due to what is eventually identified as Marfan's syndrome, a systemic weakness in the connective tissue. He handles it pretty well, though; although clearly smaller and frailer than his friends, he's pretty well-liked, meets a nice girl (Shayna Levine), helps his brother Ben (Lederman) on his film school projects, and is pretty much a normal kid. The big difference is that as his friends are preparing for college in the fall, he's looking at recovery from a scheduled heart operation.

And that's pretty much the story. Creative Writing 101 teachers might scold Brian Lederman about the lack of conflict in the story, and they wouldn't be totally off-base. The film isn't boring, but there's never a sense that it's building toward something - it just plays as a series of anecdotes of relatively equal weight, some of which work and some of which don't. While watching it, I got the feel of a decent-enough TV comedy series, something like That 70s Show set in contemporary Long Island. A lot of hte segments seem like they're starting things, but the joke or potential subplot doesn't go anywhere.

Making Mo clash with overprotective parents might not have been true to the actual events and people, though, and if the idea is mainly to create a true portrayal of Mo's life, I get that. Another obvious goal of the film is to raise awareness of Marphan's syndrome, and several scenes of Mo's trip to the doctors' are shot first-person, so that the doctors are effectively explaining the disease directly to the audience. It's kind of crude, but if Lederman is trying to do is deliver information directly, I guess you can't fault the effectiveness, even if it is almost a lecture. It does indicate that he can use a bit more experience all around, knowing when to tighten things up, or build the story so that it becomes more than just a series of events.

The cast pulls their weight, making those events at least involve people we like. It's tough to believe that Erik Per Sullivan is still only sixteen; it seems like he's been around forever. He's a seasoned pro by now; he make Mo seem both very normal and a little odd, an occasionally smart-alecky teen who also can seem wise or like a guilty child when appropriate. Margo Martindale hits all the right notes as Mo's concerned mother Pam, and Adam LeFevre is wryly amusing as father Jim, making us aware that he's just as worried in his own way as Pam is. Shayna Levine's character kind of drifts in and out after she first appears, but is always a plus when she shows up. Writer/director Brian Lederman more or less self-inserts as Mo's older brother Ben (as does his wife Monica, as Ben's girlfriend Madeline), and he's a genuine pleasure in that role. Say what you want about "no acting required" here, but many have stumbled in a similar situation.

I can't fault Lederman's intentions with this movie, or say that he didn't accomplish the goals he seems to have set. I like several moments in Mo - the ending sequence does certainly get to the audience, perhaps more than if it had been built to - but I think it might have been a bit better if it was a little less choppy.

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