Mouthpiece originated as a theatrical piece by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, making its transition to screen in 2018. The movie follows 30-year-old writer, Cassie, in the days following her mother’s sudden death. A struggle to write a eulogy forces an uncomfortable contending of diffident feminism and conformist tendencies, all in the midst of crippling grief. It is confusing too, because the protagonist is played in fragments by two actors, simultaneously.
The pair manoeuvre in either curious tandems or freakish synchrony. At times, one “Cassie” is significantly ahead and an inner conflict is manifested. The candid abstraction bristles against some of the cinematic subtlety and things get messy. But this is perhaps an intentional honouring of the honest human condition, by no means does Rozema forfeit any distressing realness with which viewers can engage. The central character’s self-contradiction is not clean cut and her volatile counterpart visually dissects grief in ways a standard approach to film is unable to.
Elaine, (Maev Beaty) appears as Cassie’s wise mother in ambient flashbacks of pinnacle moments. She raises her daughter with a strong voice, despite succumbing to conformity herself after a divorce and dwindling career leave her miserably insecure. A weighty parallel forms a framework – of adult Cassie grieving a loss – and young Cassie, absorbing her mother’s suffering, despite not understanding it; a burdening guilt that has since given rise to indignation.
A sensitive soundtrack echoes a swamping pressure, intangible to the lead character from the her depth of grief. Her feminism itches her to confront judge-y Aunt Jane and male chauvinism as she questions the oppressive instinct to resist acting truthfully. A brutally honest sex scene spotlights escapism, self-consciousness and female objectification in a profound bracing of the thorny ground beneath the modern female.
Furthermore, dark comedy is utilised unconventionally. The florist whose condolences are more suited to the loss of keys than a mother. The morbid paradox of funeral arrangements unfolding alongside childhood flashbacks. And of course, the eulogy, of which envisions become wildly satirical as the “right” words continue to elude her.
Mouthpiece is a unique experience of a vastly dismantling reflection. The director doesn’t rely on a conceptual approach alone to intrigue. The feature is steeped in sublime details, crafted to catch viewers off guard, injecting sentiment into notions of identity in both social and solitary contexts with unsparing realism. Elaine is weaved into Cassie’s filter of life. Nostabakken is gripping in her strife to define where her mother ends and she begins. It’s a painful unearthing that imprints contemplation of how best to use our voices.
Mouthpiece is released digitally on demand on 12th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for Mouthpiece here: