A meta study of grief and self-expression, “Mouthpiece” takes a novel approach to one woman, played by two actresses, Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, and her reaction to the death of her mother Elaine (Maev Beaty). “Grief can manifest itself in unexpected ways,” says a mortician, a line that is as good a tag line as any for this engaging film.
Adapted from Nostbakken and Sadava’s play of the same name, the film essays the 48-hour period in which Cassandra takes care of the business of death, choosing flowers, picking out her mother’s dress for burial and informing friends and family while dealing with the sting of loss. Despite her family’s objections she wants to do the eulogy but struggles to come to grips with her mother’s legacy. Was she a “rock star; a woman who didn’t need a man to get through life” or “a doormat who laid out for people to walk all over?” Did Elaine sacrifice a promising career as a writer in favour of her family, the patriarchy or did she just give up?
Cassandra’s journey includes musical numbers, flashbacks, dark comedy and despite the experimental framing device—two people simultaneously playing one character—a very grounded feeling of connectedness between the Casandri. Nostbakken and Sadava do not play twins, imaginary friends or flip sides of the same coin; they are Casandra’s internal and external psychological conflicts made physical. It creates a tension that constantly questions the complexities of the situations and the attendant emotions.
Director Patricia Rozema opens up the play, allowing the characters to roam the streets of Toronto and perform production numbers without losing the intimate power of the story. Interesting visual style from cinematographer Catherine Lutes cleverly emphasizes the connected quality of the characters.
“Mouthpiece” is unconventional but does something important. From the a cappella score by the two leads to the sparkling dialogue, it gives voice to its female creators, presenting the story from a contemporary point of view while ignoring stereotypes. It’s a personal film that embraces all aspects of its humanity, from vulnerability and strength and everything in between.