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It's a rare film that can successfully, in one piece of work, explore subjects like humor, pain, resilience, loss, love, the creative process, education, family, individuality, and what it means to be alive without totally bashing you over the head and making you want to die. "Tig" is an unassuming masterpiece that made me want to live as fully as possible. I laughed (a lot), I cried (like a baby by the 13-minute mark) and I cannot recommend this documentary highly enough, especially if you're a mom.
It's not the kind of title that'll jump out at you right away, unless you're an existing fan of Tig Notaro's hilarious stand-up comedy. I chose to watch this film the other night because I'd heard about Notaro's battle with cancer and her comedy on NPR. In fact, her diagnosis with cancer is what precipitated her meteoric launch into mainstream "I know that name"-ness even for those who don't closely follow stand-up. Notaro–I'll just call her Tig from here on out—delivered an epic and instantly historic live set at the Largo in Los Angeles just days after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Just before the diagnosis, she'd lost her mother, with whom she'd been remarkably close. And just before her mother died, Tig had almost died herself; she'd been hospitalized with a painful, life-threatening intestinal infection for long enough to completely disrupt her life. One of the elements it disrupted was Tig's own journey to motherhood herself—she'd just decided she wanted to become a parent, and then, well, this sequence of horrific events ensued and, for a little while, she had other fish to fry, like fighting to survive.
Parents who worry about their kids fitting in or " succeeding" in mainstream educational systems or social paradigms will do their kids an enormous favor by watching this film and witnessing what can happen when we simply let out kids become who they are.
This all comes out early in the film; this is the backdrop. In learning even this much about Tig, though and hearing bits and pieces of the brilliant and heartbreaking Largo set, I was immediately, deeply drawn in by Tig and her story. What the film is really about, however, is Tig the person. And what I found most compelling was its insight into both Tig the daughter and Tig the parent-to-be.
Tig didn't do well in school. She didn't fit into typical molds and had a hard time finding a career path until she found comedy. Turns out she's a genius comic and a successful one at that. Part of what makes her so successful is her honesty and her ability to be completely herself—something her mother encouraged in her from the beginning, despite social pressures—which makes her poignant and funny. Parents who worry about their kids fitting in or "succeeding" in mainstream educational systems or social paradigms will do their kids an enormous favor by watching this film and witnessing what can happen when we simply let out kids become who they are. Everyone has a calling, right? It's not our job to define what that will be for our children, but instead to reassure them that their unique selves, and gifts, are valuable and that there is a place for them in the world.
For a time, her string of hardships makes Tig feel she no longer wants to have kids herself, but it's her relationship with her mother that ends up inspiring her to resume her pursuit of parenthood. Following along, for the viewer, is enthralling and riveting. Without dropping any spoilers, I'll just say that cancer complicates this goal for her, of course. She pursues surrogacy, and witnessing her journey made me reflect on how much parenthood means and how deeply we feel that drive and that love for our children, how we will do anything for our children, even before we've met them.
In one scene, as she and her fiancee wait to hear whether the one viable embryo from her own body has become a viable pregnancy in her surrogate, Tig laughs about how she and her partner "just want to put little pants on him." It's such a small thing, but it means something much bigger, something words can't quite express, but something all mothers understand.
You'll have to watch "Tig" for yourself to see how it all pans out. But trust me, you'll be glad you did.