I found myself feeing disappointed and confused by Custody, the 2005 independent film by writer, director, and actor Eric Stuyvesant. Stuyvesant says the movie is quasi-autobiographical, that it represents his life as a single father, especially the feeling of being trapped by life’s circumstances. In the film his wife walks out, leaving him with 3 sons to raise alone. He struggles with the day-to-day issues most single moms know all too well, like finding quality child care. If Stuyvesant has only had to deal with the single parent issues portrayed in this film, he should consider himself lucky.
The thing that confused me about this film was Stuyvesant’s use of surreal scenes. In some scenes, he and his sons lived in a prison cell. It took me a while to figure out it wasn’t just an awful homeless shelter: it was his way of expressing that he felt trapped.
In the surreal courtroom scenes, he correctly portrayed the frustration many people feel with the family courts: the feeling that what they have to say isn’t important and that they’re lost in something immense and senseless, but I would have appreciated a more realistic dialogue from the judge. Stuyvesant did portray the frustration some parents feel when they aren’t getting help from the absent parent, but the fact is only 5-10% of fathers get sole custody, and many fathers want more time with their children, not less. I do have to say that his use of the circus song “Thunder and Blazes” for the court scenes caused me to chuckle. That was a very good call: it is exactly how many people feel about family court.
I enjoyed the touching scene of the main characters walking together and falling in love, two single parents played by Stuyvesant and Marisa Tomasic, but most of the close-up scenes in the film just weren’t realistic. The emotions weren’t believable and most of the acting was sub-par. I wondered if Stuyvesant had cut costs by asking friends to act. At least Mary Faktor, who played Stuyvesant’s mother, was enjoyable as a loving and wise grandma.
There was obviously a problem with editing. A couple of times there were moments of empty film between scenes, and often an actor’s eyes weren’t looking in the direction of the other actor in the scene. A little more attention to detail would have gone a long way.
There was one scene that made me laugh out loud. The father had told his youngest boy to use a few Cheerios in his attempts to teach him how to use the toilet standing up. The boy tried to do as he had been taught, but ended up with an entire box of cereal in the toilet bowl. Now that was realistic, and funny. Unfortunately, that one funny moment wasn’t enough to redeem this film.