In Towheads, Shannon Plumb Picks Up Where Lucille Ball Left Off


If Lucy Ricardo were alive today, she’d probably make no-budget shorts in her apartment. I Love Lucy was always sympathetic toward the creative aspirations of its untalented protagonist — partly because the actress playing her was such a gifted performer, and partly because the show never minced words about how tedious life as a housewife could be.

In the often grim, often delirious comedy Towheads, Shannon Plumb picks up where Lucille Ball left off. The writer-director-star plays Penelope, an unhappy stay-at-home Brooklyn mom confined in a mid-century relationship with her successful stage-director husband (filmmaker Derek Cianfrance, Plumb’s actual husband).

Like her TV predecessor, Penelope’s artistic ambitions exceed her abilities, and she’s inarticulate and graceless to boot. She’s so spacey she sometimes comes across as mentally impaired, incapable of following the simplest instructions at an audition.

Penelope’s ungainliness and lack of charisma threaten the coherence of the film; it seems improbable that she could land an acting job or attract a cultured partner to save her life, even before her bout of “mommy brain.” Penelope’s depression eventually turns into a mild breakdown or an explosion of imagination — it’s smartly unclear which.

Plumb showcases her genius at Chaplin-esque physical comedy in these later scenes, flailing around in a black vinyl corset in a Darth Vader burlesque routine, strolling around town as the world’s most effervescent man, and, of course, making Cindy Sherman-style films in her bedroom. They’re a wonderful celebration of creativity that’s too pedestrian — yet too original — to be institutionalized as art.