Video and performance artist Shannon Plumb’s debut film, “Towheads,” premiered at the New Directors/New Films festival last weekend. I was lucky enough to catch a screening at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center Saturday evening. Plumb is an original and exciting filmmaker whose film, a homage to motherhood, is funny and fearless and surprisingly touching.
Plumb is married to Derek Cianfrance, who directed “The Place Beyond the Pines,” starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes, which opened Friday to good reviews and a strong box office.
Before the “Towheads” screening on Saturday, Plumb thanked her mother and father and said of her husband, “Derek is the best director in the world.”
Before the movie started, someone asked me softly if the seats beside me were occupied and when I looked up it was Ryan Gosling, who slipped quietly into the row of empty seats. Few people even spotted the Oscar-nominated actor, who was with friends, although Eva Mendes, his girlfriend, was not in sight.
Plumb plays a Brooklyn actress and overtaxed mother named Penny, who spends most of her day caring and doting on her impish and energetic sons, Cody, 4, and Walker, 7 (Plumb’s real-life sons). Meanwhile, her husband is a busy theater director, Matt (played by Cianfrance), who is too self-obsessed or distracted to give her any emotional support. He is always photographed with his face partially obstructed, as though he’s only an abstract presence in her life.
“Towheads” follows Penny on her daily life quest to find fulfillment in her life, while she copes with the everyday complexities of motherhood. She’s a wonderful physical comic, loose-limbed and lanky. And she possesses a wonderful rubbery face that registers little emotion, but her large saucer-shaped eyes tell you everything. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin are obviously inspirations.
As a video artist, Plumb was used to working alone. When asked what it was like to work with actors she said she loved it. “I was so sick of seeing myself.”
She didn’t realize her great gift for physical comedy she said until she saw herself on the screen. “I tested myself on my camera,” she said. “I projected it on the wall, and I thought it was funny. I never knew I was funny. It was silent,” she said of the image of herself she first saw. “I just kept going, and the physical stuff was born.”
Plumb wanted to make it clear that the unsupportive husband in the film was not based on Cianfrance. “He’s not my real husband. He’s nothing like that.”
In the movie, she changes disguises and costumes and even genders. My favorite part is when she dons man’s clothes and a fake mustache and swaggers outside her apartment, where she even ogles other women.
During the Q&A, Gosling who plays a macho guy in “The Place Beyond the Pines,” asked Plumb: “You play so many men. What’s the key to playing a man?”
Plumb replied it was all in the walk.
After the screening, Gosling hung around and good-naturedly posed for photos with fans.
For more on Plumb’s Q&A, the Ryan Gosling sighting, and this terrific movie, click through to Showbiz411.