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Review: Mouthpiece

June 7, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The general idea behind Mouthpiece, the latest film from Canadian director Patricia Rozema, is to show the many different sides of a character by having them literally be portrayed by two separate actors.

Listed in the credits as Tall Cassandra (Amy Nostbakken) and Short Cassandra (Norah Sadava), Mouthpiece uses this dual performance to show us what the character is internalizing or externalizing in any given moment, depending upon which one engages with the world. The rest of the cast only ever interacts with one of them at a time.

Cassandra is a thirty-something writer living in Toronto, leading a fairly typical millennial life. The film opens with her getting drunk at the bar and ignoring her phone, before waking up hungover the next day to a bunch of messages informing her that her mother Elaine (Maev Beaty) has passed away.

This plunges her into a whirlwind few days, as she prepares for the funeral and struggles to write a eulogy, despite the best wishes of her family who want her brother Danny (Jake Epstein) to give the speech. This process allows Cassandra to reflect upon her mother’s life and contributions to the world, with her main struggle stemming from the fact that she is having a hard time coming to terms with the idea that Elaine gave up so much of her life in order to raise her.

The film is based on an award-winning stage play by Nostbakken and Sadava, who reprise their roles here. Where as the stage show functioned mainly as a performance piece that unfolded between the two women around a bathtub, Rozema has helped flesh out the story to unfold over about two days. The film expands the world beyond the simple stage setup, following Cassandra as she shops for new clothes at the Eaton Centre and travels around the city, while intercutting this with flashbacks to her childhood.

The approach works well enough, but beyond the general conceit of the main character being played by two different people which does open up unique possibilities from a narrative standpoint, Mouthpiece is a fairly standard portrait of someone facing the death of a parent. The story itself doesn’t really have all that much new to say about grief, and at times it feels a bit stuck between stage and screen. But this is still a well acted character study that works as an interesting exploration of the different choices women make, and what sides of themselves people choose to outwardly present to the world.

Mouthpiece is now playing in limited release at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

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