By Logan C. Ritchie / lritchie@atljewishtimes.com

“You’re slow as shit” or “She’s harboring things from when she’s 2 years old. Are we looking for things where there are none?”

“Look how washed out you are.”

Mildred and Gayle Kirschenbaum

Mildred and Gayle Kirschenbaum

“You were always defiant. You absolutely annoyed me all the time.”

Look at Us Now, Mother” is the latest documentary by Gayle Kirschenbaum, artist, director and filmmaker. Playing at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the film explores the relationship between Kirschenbaum and her hypercritical mother, Mildred.

Kirschenbaum, a fiftysomething single woman in New York, exposes her childhood with verbally abusive parents through journal entries and old family photos. She is emotionally needy and clings to her small dog, Chelsea, for comfort. She is struggling to earn her mother’s acceptance after a lifetime of insults about her nose and hair.

The filmmaker finally puts the onus on herself, saying she must change the way she looks at Mildred and start reflecting on what her mother went through as a child. Kirschenbaum’s parents endured family tragedies, including the suicide of a parent, the death of a young sibling, financial instability and intense sibling rivalry.

Despite the heaviness of verbal abuse, Kirschenbaum reveals surface-level emotion. Instead of interviews with Mildred’s friends and cousins, the film should have explored the ways in which Kirschenbaum suffered: why she never married, how she felt about having her own children, the ways in which she used therapy to forgive and forget.

The film leaves one wondering why Kirschenbaum insists on repairing the relationship with her hot-tempered, thoughtless mother.