Ma maReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/19/16 15:54:23
Penelope Cruz is one of those rare performers who can bring some kind of life to even the weakest material with her unique combination of talent, beauty and undeniable star charisma—hell, she even managed to get me to start liking Pedro Almodovar films, a feat that not even the combined forces of my critical brethren and Michael Barker had been able to achieve over the years—but not even she can save “Ma Ma,” a bizarre medical melodrama that is weird and often off-putting for its first half before going completely off the rails in the second.In it, she plays a woman named Magda and as the film opens, she finally visits her gynecologist (Asier Etexeandia) to check out a lump she found in her breast several months earlier and learns that she will need extensive chemotherapy and a mastectomy. Although she keeps her diagnosis a secret from both her ex-husband, who left her for a student of his, and her young son, she does confide in Arturo (Luis Tosar), a soccer scout whose wife and daughter were in a car accident that left the former in a coma and killed the latter. The two bond over their mutual tragedies and when Arturo’s wife dies, their relationship blossoms and with her operation a success and Arturo and her son bonding as well, everything seems like it is going to work out fine. Needless to say, it doesn’t and Magda is forced to her grim future while selflessly giving to everyone else in her orbit despite her internal suffering.
The film was written and directed by Julio Medem, the man behind such ambitious and inventive films as “Lovers of the Arctic Circle” and “Sex and Lucia,” but what could he have possibly been thinking when he came up with this nonsense. For a while, the film is just a run-of-the-mill soap opera where the only distinctive element is the strange visual style that Bardem employs that makes it look as if it is taking place in some kind of “THX-1138”-style dystopian future at certain points. Once Magda receives her second and more troubling diagnosis at about the halfway point, the emotional manipulation rises to levels that even Nicholas Sparks would find excessive and leads to scenes that are so strange that there is almost the temptation to dismiss them as flights of drug-induced fantasy—I can accept the idea that Magda’s doctor appears to only have her as a patient but not so much the gimmick that he is always singing love songs to her, even as he is about to perform her mastectomy. (Don’t even ask about the recurring images of a Siberian orphan that turn up in the damnedest places to symbolize something or other.)As for Cruz, she is the only thing that keeps this even remotely watchable but not even her efforts are enough to make her character even slightly plausible. (She is unfailingly kind and noble, for example, but based on the evidence seen here, she has not a single friend, colleague or loved one willing to see her at all other than Arturo, the doctor, her son and her ex). Even her considerable legion of fans around the world are likely to dismiss “Ma Ma” as a vanity project that is so silly and off-putting that it almost makes “By the Sea” seem palatable by comparison.
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