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Love & Stuff 2020


Distributed by Good Docs
Produced by Judith Helfand, Hilla Medalia, and Julie Benello
Directed by Judith Helfand
Streaming, 78 mins

College - General Adult
Adoption; Family Relations; Grief

Date Entered: 03/20/2023

Reviewed by Steve Brantley, Head of Research, Engagement, and Scholarship, Professor of Library Services, Eastern Illinois University

Judith Helfand’s Love & Stuff is a deeply personal journey about loss, love, holding on, and letting go. Helfand (Cooked, Everything’s Cool) uses archival footage from her 1997 film A Healthy Baby Girl as well as family recordings throughout her adult life to portray the story of her mother Florence in her final year as she declines from cancer. After Florence’s death, we are allowed in to Helfand’s grieving process and her difficulty dealing with the accumulation of stuff her mother left. Helfand experiences her loss in everything her mother left behind and feels an attachment to even the most mundane objects, such as a plastic bag of takeout menus. It is impossible for her to part with almost anything because her mother is imbued in everything.

But life continues, and Helfand moves forward with the adoption at age 50 of her daughter Theodora. The room she makes in her life and heart for Theo allows her to deal with the loss of her mother and overcome the weight of stuff and behaviors that have been holding her back.

The events that punctuate this documentary, Florence’s passing and Theo’s adoption occur within a year of each other. But the actual time covered in the narrative scope of the film encompasses at least 25 years. Florence continues to be a presence throughout Love & Stuff since no shot within Helfand’s home is missing the evidence of Florence’s stuff filling it, but also through film clips. Helfand weaves Florence’s voice and expression into the new chapters of her life with baby Theo. We are allowed to join Helfand in her journey as a new old-mother learning the joys and stresses of raising a baby, and by the end of the film we have seen a nearly complete transformation of Helfand’s self, home and her child celebrating her 8th birthday. And yet Florence is there to the last frame of the film as a sweet and comforting memory. It is a skillful and poignant demonstration of personal growth and the understanding that we can persevere, even without our most beloved to comfort us.

Love & Stuff is both a personal journey and a deeply resonant reporting of the fraught relationship Americans have with their stuff. We continue to collect it, both the sentimental and nostalgic as well as the disposable in order to fulfill some frantic (and impossible) need to establish permanence in this world. Helfand accomplishes this in a confessional and vulnerable story without ever shaking her finger at our culture for its irrational grasping and consumerism. And yet we can’t help but see ourselves in her “pathology-adjacent” collecting and clutching at objects.

Love & Stuff is uplifting. It is a story of loss but finally and decidedly a story of growth and newfound healthy relationships. Any academic library supporting aging studies, psychology, social work, health communication and related fields, as well as Gender and Women’s studies would be interested in this documentary for their collection.

Official Selection, Doc NYC; Official selection, Hotdocs

Published and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Anyone can use these reviews, so long as they comply with the terms of the license.