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Recommended: POV: Love & Stuff on PBS

Judith Helfand chronicles the emotional roller coaster of turning 50, losing her mother, and becoming a first-time mom herself.
  • Judith Helfand in Love & Stuff. (Photo: Medalia Productions)
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    POV: Love & Stuff | PBS
    Documentary Film | TV-14

    What's POV: Love & Stuff About?

    The filmmaker’s mother — a fixture in her previous documentaries — passes away, leaving Judith Helfand with an apartment full of stuff and the weight of unmet expectations. Then the adoption agency calls.

    Who's involved?

    • Judith Helfand has won numerous awards for her films, which spotlight her highly personal form of activist documentary that has just enough whimsy to make the medicine go down. Helfand's 1997 debut A Healthy Baby Girl was a video diary she made after learning that a drug her mom took during pregnancy gave her cervical cancer. Blue Vinyl, in 2002, masterfully expanded on this theme of “better living through chemicals.” She has also made films about climate change: Everything’s Cool and the excellent Cooked, a revisiting of the 1995 Chicago heat wave.
    • Florence Helfand, Judith's mother, appeared in many of her documentaries, either in cameos or as a leading figure.
    • Daniel Gold won the cinematography award at the Sundance Film Festival for Blue Vinyl, which he co-directed with Helfand. Love & Stuff is their third collaboration.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    Judith Helfand has been merging the political and personal in her films for 25 years, with results both entertaining and thoughtful. She’s tackled poverty, climate change, toxic pollution and labor unrest — all with her signature heimish style, a Yiddish term that connotes informality and a light-hearted spirit.

    Love & Stuff is more introspective and doesn't have that issues-driven frisson, but her story revolves around life and death, and subject matter doesn’t get much bigger than that. Neither, apparently, does our zaftig filmmaker. She has put on a few pounds over her adult lifetime, and as the camera is rolling, her mother makes Judith promise to lose 50 pounds. To this she agrees, and to this adds another overwhelming task, as she privately vows to start going through the dozens of boxes of family heirlooms and memorabilia in her mother’s possession.

    These are not idle promises: Both women know that Judith wants, at age 50, to adopt a baby. Being lighter on her feet will help her keep up with the demands of an active child. And as for all her parents’ … stuff, there won't be any room in her Upper West Side apartment for it once baby comes along.

    Some viewers may wince at the fatphobic norms accepted by the Helfands, which may explain why, in the film’s publicity, Judith is downplaying that aspect and instead promoting Love & Stuff as being about “our complex and very emotional attachment to ‘stuff,’ and what it is we really need to leave our children.” (In fairness, that was the premise of Love & Stuff in its first iteration, as a 10-minute short Helfand made for the New York Times in 2020.)

    But stay with the downsizing-mommy piece, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Helfand has made a career out of using her work as a means of personal therapy, and she has never been more vulnerable than in dealing with the loss of her beloved parent and the seemingly insane decision to raise a child at midlife.

    Even if you don't see the world she does, she'll win you over with honesty, good humor and desire to be a better person tomorrow than she is today.

    Pairs well with

    • Blue Vinyl. The 2002 film that is Helfand and Gold's best collaboration, it takes a deep dive into the environmentally sketchy siding that adorns her parents’ Long Island home. (Streams for free on Tubi.)
    • Shrill. Aidy Bryant plays a self-proclaimed fat advocate learning to live her life loud and proud — and does it with a light touch. (Streams on Hulu.)
    • Cooked. Helfand uses her signature blend of truth-telling and quirky humor to revisit the almost-forgotten Chicago heat disaster of 1995 and have a conversation about extreme poverty and social priorities. (Available for rental.)

  • POV: Love & Stuff
    Premieres on PBS Monday, September 5, 2022 at 10:00 PM ET. Available to stream through November 5th at pbs.org and PBS Passport.
    Producers Judith Helfand, Hilla Medalia, and Julia Parker Benello.
    Starring: Judith Helfand and Florence Helfand.
    Directed by: Judith Helfand and David Cohen.
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    TOPICS: POV: Love & Stuff, PBS, David Cohen, Florence Helfand, Hilla Medalia, Judith Helfand, Judith Helfand, Judith Helfand, Julia Parker Benello