Recommended: POV: Love & Stuff on PBS
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.
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