Co-writer Maggie Baird stars as a tired mom who rediscovers her songwriting passion while helping her sulky, teenage son find a voice of his own.
Like so many mothers, 46-year-old “Laura” (Maggie Baird) selflessly takes care of everyone else and their needs before her own. She is bogged down with mundane tasks of everyday life – from hosting her wacky sister’s scrapbooking parties and packing up her mother’s business to making dinner for her husband and (ungrateful) teenage sons. When she contemplates donating her old guitar, Laura’s long-forgotten love of music instantly rushes back to her. She heads to a local guitar shop to buy the essentials – new strings, a pick, sheet music – and immediately begins creating imperfect, inspired songs of her own.
Thinking she can write songs for a living, Laura signs up for available spots at Open-Mic Nights in downtown Los Angeles (far enough away to not be recognized) and brings her youngest, moody son Shane (Finneas O’Connell) to tag along. Unlike his gruff father and brothers, gangly 14-year-old Shane feels bullied at home and invisible at school. And like his mother, his only outlet is creative expression. The two bond over nights at the half-empty clubs and slowly, subtly gain newfound confidence.
The Jill D’Agnenica-directed film is sleepy with a clunky plot, but ultimately very sweet. Although portions of dialogue could have been eliminated (the same messages can come across without the characters having to blatantly say them) the screenplay was supremely realistic. Laura’s realism is found in the details: giving her sister “Lydia” (co-writer Lori Nasso) business without being thanked, taking her aging father to appointments, picking up her sons from school, and still managing to put dinner on the table (albeit burnt garlic bread) at the end of the day. Some of the supporting characters were a bit stereotypical, but Baird and O’Connell gave strong, central performances as mother and son.
The way Baird and Nasso write Shane’s character is not over-the-top, like so many films about angsty teenagers. Although he has typical drawings of scary figures in his notebook, (Hollywood’s requirement if there is a teenage outcast in a movie) there is just enough practicality to bring everything down to earth. Not only the writing, but also the set design of middle-class, suburban Los Angeles house makes everything seem more authentic. Although cramped and dim, the cluttered home seems warm and comfortably familiar to so many.
With pleasant folk music as an overarching theme (warning: it may lull you to sleep) the film is sincere and heartwarming. A quote from an early episode of The Wonder Years came to mind where Daniel Stern narrates, “When you’re a little kid, you’re a little bit of everything: Artist, Scientist, Athlete, Scholar. Sometimes it seems like growing up is a process of giving those things up, one by one. I guess we all have one thing we regret giving up; one thing we really miss – that we gave up because we were too lazy, or because we couldn’t stick it out, or because we were afraid.” Life Inside Out makes you care about a middle-aged mom who is bold enough to pull out her dusty, old guitar and give her forgotten passion one more try.
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (1/14/15)
Top & Bottom Photo: Maggie Baird and Finneas O’Connell as mother/son duo “Laura” and “Shane”
Co-writers Maggie Baird and Lori Nasso play sisters with a love-hate relationship. They discuss dreams, the decision to have kids, and what supporting someone is all about.