Former Hobbits do Stoppard and a mother-daughter film parodies 70s variety shows

Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd discuss taking on a Tom Stoppard classic, and Melissa D'Agostino debuts film about a deeply dysfunctional mother-daughter combo

Former Hobbits do Stoppard and a mother-daughter film parodies 70s variety shows
Melissa D'Agostino (left), Wendie Malick, Phil Luzi, Darryl Hinds and Juan Chioran are all game for Mother of All Shows.

In Melissa D'Agostino's Mother of All Shows (Rating: ✭✭✭), an adult woman reunites with her estranged mother after she discovers the judgemental older woman is dying. The kicker? Their entire encounter is styled like a 70s variety show, complete with snatches of game shows, guests from their troubled past and lots of cheesy commercials commenting on their fraught relationship.

✅ = Critic's pick / ✭✭✭✭✭ = outstanding, among best of the year / ✭✭✭✭ = excellent / ✭✭✭ = recommended / ✭✭ or ✭ = didn't work for me

The entertaining result, which receives its Toronto premiere this week, feels a bit like Mommy Dearest and Chicago if both had aired as a double bill on the fictional SCTV network. co-founder D'Agostino (familiar to Toronto theatre audiences from her character Lupe, her early work with Coal Mine Theatre and co-writing the hit play Daughter) is Liza, a lifestyle TV editor who's nervously awaiting seeing her mother for the first time in four years.

At first she mostly waits in the wings as Rosa (Wendie Malick of TV's Just Shoot Me and Hot in Cleveland), clad in some stunning outfits (the costume and production design are top notch), delivers her brassy routine to a laugh track, her exasperated producer (Trevor Martin) looking on. Most of Rosa's jokes are aimed at Liza and involve her weight and her single marital status.

Soon Liza's asked to join in on a duet, do a bit of tap dancing and, hosted by her mom, take part in a clever parody of a TV dating game show that includes her Italian-Canadian high school boyfriend (Phil Luzi), her current boyfriend (Darryl Hinds) and her childhood physician (Juan Chioran).

Besides the send-ups of 70s TV, there are lots of musical in-jokes, starting with the main characters' names themselves. Mama Rosa feels like a nod to Broadway's ultimate stage mom; and Liza and her more basic cousin Lisa (Tarah Consoli) seems like a reference to a certain Kander and Ebb song.

The opening third of the film hammers home the same points continually, but eventually D'Agostino explores the mother-daughter relationship with a bit more depth, if not subtlety. Liza's father, Gus (Michael A. Miranda), gets a gentle little number (Rebecca Everett wrote the music), and a mock Catholic confessional scene – featuring Chioran, always up for a song and a costume change, as a priest – fills in some of the characters' gaps.

The final sequence, in which the two main characters drop all pretense to confront their issues (and mortality) head-on, is well-written and poignant, touchingly performed by D'Agostino and Malick.

At one point, Hinds's character wears a TV shirt labelled Six Guns for Hire. Thinking this might be an Easter egg, I looked it up and saw that it's the title of an upcoming film by D'Agostino and partner Matthew Campagna (the indie director and other HighballTV founder), featuring many of this film's stars as well as Colm Feore, Maurice Dean Wint and Oyin Oladejo.

After D'Agostino's bold, stylish directorial debut, I'm looking forward to that one too.

Mother of All Shows screens Tuesday (March 5), at 7:30 pm, at the Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor West), with a post-screening Q&A. Details here.

Dominic Monaghan (left) and Billy Boyd photographed by Shanley Kellis.

From the Shire to the CAA Theatre

A couple of weeks ago, I got to chat with Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan, who have been great friends since they met in New Zealand to make film history as Hobbits Pippin and Merry in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies.

It was during a break stuck up in the mechanical Treebeard tree that they first discussed doing a play together; one of the shows that came up was Tom Stoppard's 1966 Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Well, it took more than 20 years to get to play those iconic characters (minor players in Hamlet, major ones in Stoppard's three-act modern classic). It all happened thanks to Neptune Theatre's artistic director Jeremy Webb.

Here's my talk with Boyd, Monaghan and Webb, published on the weekend in the Toronto Star. The mostly sold-out production, which also features Michael Blake, Raquel Duffy, Walter Borden and many other familiar actors, opens at the Mirvish's CAA Theatre in a week – so look for my review soon after. You can find ticket info here.