A woman comes home from a trip unannounced and sees her husband having sex with another woman in the pool. In an attempt to say something amid the shock and hurt, the wife simply tells her husband to put the solar cover on the pool once they’re done. Fast-forward to 5 years later, and we see the same pool untouched, probably since that fateful evening.
“Suze,” the comedy-drama film written and directed by Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart, wastes no time showing us the aftermath of spousal cheating, and the jilted partner left behind to pick up the pieces. Starring Michaela Watkins in a funny, meaty role as the titular character, “Suze” ends up overcoming its rough edges and jarring tonal shifts to tell a good story of a mother and her dynamic with an unlikely individual.
Head-On Collision of Loss of Purpose and Heartbreak
As the film introduces us to Suze (Watkins), we learn that her only daughter Brooke (Sara Waisglass) had been planning to leave for college without telling her mother. In fact, Suze only finds out about it during Brooke’s graduation, when Suze’s ex-husband and his new wife let it slip that they’ve paid for Brooke’s plane tickets as graduation gift.
At this point, Clark and Stewart’s screenplay portrays Suze as a single mom who has lost her purpose. So losing Brooke would double the heartbreak, despite them having a relatively combative mother-daughter relationship; which is even made more complicated by Brooke’s relationship with Gage (Charlie Gillespie), a dim-witted slacker whom Suze can’t stand.
All that, until Suze gets a call from her daughter, saying that Gage tried to kill himself over his longing for Brooke and asking if Suze could go check on him. Before she knows it, Suze finds herself having to take care of Gage, even as he reveals that Brooke dumped him over the text message while he continues to pine for her.
Stuck taking care of her daughter’s heartbroken ex-boyfriend — whom she can’t stand — might be a disaster in the making. But for someone looking for a purpose to continue with life, this might just be exactly what the doctor ordered.
An Interesting Look into Empty Nest Syndrome
While not classified as a clinical illness, empty nest syndrome commonly befalls full-time mothers who could potentially eventually experience depression and a loss of purpose. The film zeroes in on this loneliness, highlighting Suze’s cluelessness on how to cope up with Brooke’s departure.
When she opens up to her colleague Lorraine expecting to share the same skies, Suze instead hears the opposite. Lorraine recounts the words she told herself upon sending her son to college: “You’re finally free.” She then advises Suze to take advantage of the free time the latter has: travel, join book clubs. “You could dress around the house in your underwear.”
As the film unfolds, we see Suze taking a different route, instead becoming a doting mother figure to Gage as he recovers from his injuries post-suicide attempt. Their time spent together helps them understand each other better, revealing parts of themselves even they didn’t know existed. And while they basically deal with the same problem, both Suze and Gage forge a bond that allows them to have the strength to move forward.
The Chemistry of Its Leads Makes Up for ‘Suze’s’ Tonal Unevenness
With this narrative setup comes a follow-up concern, one that more or less revolves around the fact that when not handled the right way, Suze and Gage’s story might be problematic. Add to this the film’s tonal shifts and at times uneven storytelling, and it could be all over the place. Shades of Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” are apparent in the film, if only told through the mother’s perspective. On the other hand, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give kudos to Hugh Elchuk‘s editing, amplifying the comedic elements even more to make this a really endearing comedy-drama film.
Fortunately, “Suze” benefits from the amazing chemistry from its leads. The film largely benefits from Michaela Watkins’ patented deadpan delivery, and her chemistry with Charlie Gillespie. Their initial awkwardness looks and feels natural. And as their friendship develops into a deep mother-son vibe, we as audiences dig it to the core. In the end, as they navigate their respective lives together, their shared experiences help them defeat their monsters and discover something more important within themselves: a purpose to carry on.
‘Suze’ will screen at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which runs from February 7 to 14, 2024. Follow us for more coverage.