The relationship between mothers and their gay sons is a longstanding theme of queer cinema, usually of the suffocating, jealousy-ridden, Freudian kind. That’s a trope filmmaker Mike Roma would like to upend. Hence the idea for his feature debut, “Dating My Mother,” a heartfelt comedy with a fresh take on the mother/gay son relationship.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the bond between mothers and their gay sons, but I’ve never seen a relationship quite like my own depicted onscreen,” said Roma. “Typically, gay men have been portrayed as deviant, weak, or dangerous, while their mothers have been castrating, icy, or evil. I wanted to break these stereotypes and show that a mother and son can be close without being Oedipal.”
Influenced by the Duplass brothers, Lena Dunham, and Jill Soloway, Roma borrowed elements of his own life for the story. Danny (Patrick Reilly) is an aspiring screenwriter crashing with his single mother (Kathryn Erbe) at his childhood home in New Jersey. Impossibly close; the pair gossip over power walks, watch old movies together, and attend neighborhood parties arm in arm. All of that comes crashing down, however, when Danny’s mother announces she’s ready to start dating again. As Danny navigates dick pics and flakes of Grindr, his mother spends hours on the phone with potential suitors. The generational divide never looked so great.
Courtesy of Frameline/Mike Roma
Roma first caught our eye with his hilarious and sensitive web series, “Danny the Manny,” about a gay nanny who discovers his young charge likes to cross dress. Both understated and satisfyingly fabulous, the series charts an unlikely duo’s bond over shared gender exploration using comedy and fantasy elements. Its professional look, refreshing humor, and deft handling of childhood gender play landed “Danny the Manny” a spot on IndieWire’s list of 2016’s best web series.
Making the switch from web series to a feature film is still a giant leap, but it helped to have a calling card to lure talent like Kathy Najimy and Erbe (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”). “No film is ever easy to make, but ‘Danny the Manny’ definitely strengthened the ‘Dating My Mother’ pitch,” said Roma. “It’s often hard to capture tone on the page. It’s subjective, so pointing to ‘Danny the Manny’ which is shot in a very similar style was helpful.”
“Dating My Mother” will play San Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival this week, one of the country’s leading gay film festivals. It was important to Roma to show positive representations of gay characters, without focusing solely on their sexuality.
“Television is changing LGBT representation for the better, but movies are still years behind,” said Roma. “And it seems that queer characters are almost always supporting straight and cis leads…Through my work I want to promote and elevate queer people whose lives center around more than their identities. We’re just as complex and flawed as everyone else…I think we deserve to be represented with humor, honesty, and diversity.”
Watch the exclusive clip from “Dating My Mother” below:
“Dating My Mother” premieres at the Frameline Film Festival on Friday, June 16.