“Mommy Is Coming”: Cheryl Dunye’s Self-Reflexive Sex Comedy Dissects and Embraces the Erotic

In Lost Movie Reviews From the Autostraddle Archives we revisit past lesbian, bisexual, and queer classics that we hadn’t reviewed before, but you shouldn’t miss.

I wasn’t initially planning on reviewing Mommy Is Coming—Cheryl Dunye’s 2012 film that was co-written with Sarah Schulman—for the Lost Movie Reviews series. Mainly because I’d never seen Mommy Is Coming and knew little about it, despite having seen many of Dunye’s works. But Drew Gregory said she’d like to see me write about this movie, and when it comes to movies, I always listen to Drew. So on an unusually chilly and very gloomy day in Miami, I watched the sweaty and frenetic sex comedy Mommy Is Coming. In a nutshell: This movie fucks.

“Sex comedy” is far too similistic of a way to describe the movie, which is a complex and visually immersive exploration of gender, sexuality, power, and identity with little by way of a plot. The movie lets you know exactly what it is in its first scene—which follows a gorgeous opening credits sequence. Dylan (Lil Harlow) gets fucked by Claudia/Claude (Papi Coxx) with a condom-wrapped handgun in the back of a cab. It’s the first of several explicit and kinky sex scenes that make up the movie, which blurs lines between pornography, documentary, narrative film. Dunye often operates under her own set of rules, and in Mommy Is Coming, she pretty much throws away convention, form, and rules altogether. Obscuring boundaries between fact and fiction is the name of her game, and she’s back at it again here,

Technically, there IS a plot. Dylan and Claude are having relationship issues, heightened by the arrival of the titular mommy—Dylan’s sex educator mother who is horny and unsatisfied in her marriage. Claude’s exploration of gender also makes for one of the more linear parts of the story, as well as their eventual sexual relationship with Dylan’s mommy. But the plot is as thin as that of most porn. And that’s exactly the point.

It’s a smart reflection on the camp and performance of sex and kink. Mommy Is Coming isn’t interested in drawing lines between pornography or art. It’s resistant to binaries in many ways. But even as the movie leans into the silliness and performative nature of sex, it also lets its characters lean into desire. We learn about them not by conventional character development details but by what they want.

Mommy Is Coming isn’t just over-the-top. It pushes its own premise to the outermost extremes. Set in the sexual underground of Berlin, it’s very queer and very trans. But Dunye also pushes far into taboo, determined to shock and evoke both desire but also discomfort. It doesn’t seem like the movie is saying that no sex is disgusting but rather that sex is sometimes disgusting. It’s not sex-positve; it’s sex-investigative. Actors address the camera head-on in talking head-style interviews, unpacking the movie as it goes. It all ends with the cast offering up their thoughts on Motherfucking. It’s safe to say I’ve never seen another movie quite like Mommy Is Coming—other than some of Dunye’s early work. Dunye’s work often exists in its own category.

Characters become voyeurs, anyone watching the film becomes a voyeur, Dunye herself acts as voyeur, both as the film’s director and also as the cab driver in the opening scene. You’re supposed to feel a little dirty and exposed when watching the movie. And for that reason, it’s probably not for everyone. But I find the movie’s playfulness when it comes to both porn tropes and rom-com tropes to be very funny and ultimately insightful. It’s steeped in both erotica and commentary on the erotic. It arouses, but it also makes you think about arousal and its many confusing tendrils. But it also isn’t taking itself too seriously. Ultimately, the movie makes no attempt to pathologize or over-explain its characters desires. It’s kind of just like….yeah, sex is weird. And you know what? Correct.

You can watch Mommy Is Coming for $3.99 on Amazon Prime.

Want more movies? Check out Autostraddle’s 200 Best Lesbian Movies of All Time.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 870 articles for us.