Pearl Simmons, an aging jazz singer, lives in a warm comfy brownstone in Brooklyn. She lives alone, every since her husband passed away and her children moved out to create lives of their own.
But Pearl is starting to lose her sense of place and time, wandering into memories of her days as a singer in 1970s New York, when she was at the peak of her creative and mental powers.
As Pearl navigates an increasingly blurry state of mind, aggressive real estate companies are zeroing in on her home, wanting to buy up the valuable property in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood, and her daughter Cynthia weighs the idea of selling the brownstone.
Despite Cynthia’s growing struggles in trying to care for her mother, Pearl won’t hear of it and fights the idea the entire time — but as her mind slips away, she may just have to lose the most important anchor in her life after all.
Writer-director Christopher Piazza’s heartfelt drama captures the tragic onset of early Alzheimer’s disease in one woman’s life, as well as its ripple effects on family dynamics, her autonomy and her future.
The writing uses a sophisticated narrative structure for a short film, toggling between Pearl’s muddled, confused present with memories of her young self. Many shorts simply don’t have the space to juggle between past and present, but here, the structure works beautifully to not just portray the blurring of time for present-day Pearl, but to show her at her most creative and brilliant.
The flashbacks to her heyday as a singer also gives the film the opportunity to weave in dazzling musical performances by rising jazz star and Grammy nominee Jazzmeia Horn. The performances are not only engaging on its own terms, but it adds bittersweet resonance to the film’s overall arc of a woman who may have to give up her home in order to fund her uncertain future.
As thrilling as the music is, the heart and soul of the story is lead actress Michelle Hurst — known recently for “Orange Is the New Black” — who offers a heartbreaking portrayal of a vital, lively woman in the throes of early dementia as Pearl.
Each beat is limned with great precision and specificity, and though the character of Pearl may lose her sense of solid self, Hurst never loses the thread of the character’s progression in her high wire of a performance. When she finally gets a glimmer of just what she’s grappling with, the shift of realization within Pearl is heartbreaking, both for her and the audience.
“Baby Won’t You Please Come Home” is a story rendered with great heart and compassion for an increasingly common condition that faces many seniors — and with the growth of America’s elderly population, the tragedy and urgency only become more pointed and poignant.
The film offers an intimate look into how a mind can fray in the grip of early Alzheimer’s, and how disorienting and even dangerous it can be in the present, and the sad yet inevitable steps that families may have to take to keep their loved ones safe. Later, we not only glimpse Pearl’s future, but by showing her wonderfully warm, creative past, we see what she’s losing as well — making it all the more heartbreaking and wrenching in the end.