Written and directed by Mike Roma, Dating My Mother tells the story of Danny (Patrick Reilly), a young queer male returning home to life with his mother in New Jersey. Having spent the last few years living freely in Los Angeles as a writer, Patrick finds his homecoming a mixed bag of emotion. While he appreciates his mother’s willingness to take him in and sees their relationship deepen, he also feels stifled living in a more conventional environment.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film comes through its comparison and contrast between the way generations use social platforms to find love. Though both Danny and his mother, Joan (Katheryn Erbe), are looking for love, their use of technology reveals how those needs manifest themselves differently between generations. For example, whereas Joan timidly searches dating sites looking for intimacy, Danny’s quest seems more surface oriented, often involving sexting and limited closeness. In this manner, director Mike Roma wisely opts to depict Danny’s digital dalliances with physical actors standing in for their verbal romances and, in doing so, provides much needed reality to the online world. As a result, both Danny’s and Joan’s journeys demonstrate the different ways that we search for connection in our modern context. While some use social networking for deeper relationships, there are many who have adapted their expectations of love to something more surface-oriented. (However, it’s also worth noting that Danny’s quest for love remains dissatisfied with mere online responses. In fact, he desperately seeks a personal connection from those he contacts, even if they continuously come up lacking.) Ultimately though, what becomes evident is that both Joan and Danny are looking for connection in a world of digital distance where genuine intimacy is becoming increasingly scarce.
Though their romantic lives are struggling it is worth noting that this film does show the relationships within the home as offering genuine care and support, especially from our parents. In fact, one could argue that, while not the most conventional choice for a Mother’s Day film, Dating offers a strong picture of what the women in our lives are often willing to do for us. Joan puts her son’s needs before her own, welcoming him back into her home to show Danny how valuable he is to her. As she considers looking for romance, she includes Danny by inviting new beau Chester to dinner. Lonely in his own room, she allows Danny to sleep in her bed night after night in order to comfort him. In many ways, their relationship provides the emotional core for the film, setting a tone of safety and support.
In some ways, the film plays out as a epilogue on the famed Prodigal Son parable as the free-living son returns home after life on his own. Though he clearly appreciates the welcome that he’s shown upon his return, can he re-adapt to the lifestyle that he had run from in the first place? Newcomer Patrick Reilly portrays Danny beautifully as a young man who, although clearly feeling suffocated by his surroundings, remains genuine in his love of his mother. There is a picture of divine grace that Erbe breathes into her depiction of Joan that continuously offers Danny redemption and a deeper sense of intimacy than he’s able to find online. As a result, the film reminds us of the impact that God-like unconditional love has on our lives, providing an environment where we can grow and heal in safety.
In the end, Dating comes across as a love letter to those parents who have given up so much for us to thrive. Though Danny falters and stumbles in his youth, his mother remains constant in her desire to pick up the pieces. Providing genuine intimacy over superficial connection, Joan continuously shows him the true nature of love.
In that way, maybe Dating My Mother is more appropriate for Mother’s Day than it first appears.