By: Jolie Featherstone
Shelly Love’s feature film directorial debut A Bump Along the Way is an emotionally intelligent dramedy about a mother and daughter coming-of-age together at different points in their lives.
Pamela (prolific Irish actor Bronagh Gallagher) has just turned 44. She works part-time at a local bakery, previously cared for her ailing Mum, and now lives with her 15 year old daughter, Allegra (Lola Petticrew). Pamela’s known in her community for her winning wit and easy-going nature. Indeed, the local high school boys that stop in at her bakery adore her irreverent sense of humour. They deem her cool.
Allegra, meanwhile, is reserved, strict on herself and others. Those same boys that praise her Mom, ignore her. Or, idly stand by while she gets bullied by others at school. She does not talk about this to anyone.
Pamela and Allegra have two very different personalities. Pamela’s earthy language and casual lifestyle grate on Allegra, who is wound tightly due to the external pressures she faces quietly. When Pamela learns that she’s unexpectedly pregnant, the mother and daughter are forced to reckon with each other to adapt to this new situation, but not without a few bumps along the way (pardon the pun).
Pamela’s pregnancy is both the catalyst and symbol of the mother and daughter’s individual growth, as well as the moulting of their relationship. It is refreshing to see an “adult coming-of-age” story being centred, especially that of a woman in her 40s. Though “coming-of-age” typically evokes nostalgic memories of adolescence, in actuality it feels more natural to say that we “come-of-age” in many ways, many times during our life. The film is peppered with many lingering, gentle long shots of women’s faces – not overly posed, but individual moments of reflection. Shelly Love and screenwriter Tess McGowan capture the stories and experiences of these characters with quiet confidence and kindness. Though it’s easy at first to mistake Pamela for a confident woman, we slowly start to see that underneath her fun-loving, wise-cracking ways, she’s unsure of herself. After enduring years of criticism and character assassination at the hands of her mother and ex, Pamela’s carefree ways take on a deeper resonance. Perhaps she’s trying to find happiness and contentment living life on her own terms and with her chosen family. Witnessing her stretch her wings by confronting her ex about his lack of child support, and the father of her baby to acknowledge her, we see her slowly start to develop her sense of worth.
Similarly, it was a welcome surprise to see how the film handled Allegra’s teenage coming-of-age story. Quiet and reserved at school, Allegra’s tight coil of stress unwinds itself at home, which often results in her becoming cruel and sharp towards her Mom. Although her outbursts are painful, Pamela eventually recognizes that Allegra’s behaviour is the result of how she’s treated at school and how much Allegra’s been trying to conceal that. A Bump Along the Way never tries to condemn Allegra or write her off as films so often do to teenage girls. It shows her empathy.
It was also revitalizing to see intimate and supportive platonic friendships (outside of coupledom or family ties) between adults. Pamela’s relationship with her long-time best friend Sinead (Mary Moulds) is one for the books. Friends since they were teenagers, they have a loving and accepting relationship. They are just as comfortable joking about their hard-partying hijinks as they are when Pamela asks Sinead to be her birthing partner. When Pamela tells her friend and co-worker Michael (Dan Gordon) that she’s pregnant, his face lights up and his strong baker’s arms wrap her into an embrace. You can feel the love and pride radiating from his face and hands in that hug. It is one of the most joyful hugs I’ve seen commit to film.
Uplifting and understated, A Bump Along the Way is a film about identity, family, and how those two factors blend together and how they clash. It is a tale of empathy, acceptance, and choosing your family – biological or otherwise – with intention and resilience.
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Jolie Featherstone: @TOFilmFiles