Skip To Content
The Schmooze

Gayle Kirschenbaum On Her Oy Vey Mom ‘Selfie’ Film: ‘Look At Us Now Mother!’

“We are all prisoners of our family life experience” Gayle Kirschenbaum — artist, filmmaker, and creator told me during several conversations about her autobiographical documentary “Look At Us Now Mother!” — an emotional, kishke-churning rollercoaster ride dealing with her mother’s lifelong torturing “get a nose job mantra” and more. Truth be told, my reaction to the film’s curtain-raiser scenes had me cringing at this portrayal of a mother from Hell. Gayle’s comment to me: “I thought of John Lennon’s song “Life Is What Happens When You’re Busy Doing Other Things.”

Crediting [Columbia University professor film maven] “Annette [Insdorf] for “changing my life.” Gayle said: “It was she who launched my short film “My Nose” which she recommended to film festivals. I saw I was not alone — adults, seniors, walking around with that anger and resentment of a critical parent and hadn’t let go of it. “My Nose” was on the front page of “The Washington Post”. My profile in front of a huge picture of the Indian on the Buffalo Nickel… my mother read it and said: ‘Great! Bad Press is better than no press. I am on the cover!’…. My mission was not to vilify [my mother] but to help other people. I must give her credit. I don’t know other mothers who would be willing to be so examined.”

Apropos the allusions to Joan Crawford in “Mommy Dearest” Gayle cited her mother’ near boast: “’I never knew I was such a bitch!…[But] I do look like Joan Crawford!’” “She is becoming a celebrity in her own time in Boca…Now my mother keeps telling audiences how talented I am…. This is my mission to tell people what I have learned in life. Being a human is challenging…my mother was out to get me. I came out as Gayle not Gary. Many friends had nose jobs and wish they did not have it…. The emotional stuff you remember, not receiving love, being lied to, never letting anyone near you. This was my life challenge.”

Jumping from one thought and memory to another, Gayle said: “I do have a course I teach. I do have a message. The most important thing is to find forgiveness in yourself.“

Revisiting “Look At Us Mother!” twice — with its convoluting family history and cast of characters [thanks to a treasure trove of home movies] — I told Gayle “ This film is a selfie.” “I’m happy you called it a ‘selfie’…. I am not technical, I just whipped it out…I sometimes learn from my audience.” She recalled a woman—following a screening — whispering to her own mother ‘you can now forgive grandma.’”

‘I knew [my mom] was funny. It is a difficult film. I did not want to torture people. I wanted comic relief. I knew it would leave you with laughter.” And smile I did at the evolution of their relationship at end of the film. “My mother is now 92. This is my message: The most important thing is to find forgiveness in somebody. When you hang on to that anger and resentment—it only hurts…. like an addiction…and that’s emotional bondage.”

Go …see… reflect… smile and at the end maybe forgive someone.

The film opens in New York On April 8 for one week at Village East Cinema with Gayle and mother available for Q&A Also opens April 8 in Los Angeles at Laemmle Theater in Santa Monica Film Center and Town Center in Encino

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.