Ma ma, 2015.
Directed by Julio Medem.
Starring Penelope Cruz, Luis Tosar, Asier Etxeandia and Teo Planell.
An upbeat single mother tackles love and mortality after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Besides her appearances in Pedro Almodovar’s films, Penelope Cruz’s potential as a serious actress remains largely untapped. On paper, Ma Ma is the right vehicle to show off her flair for pathos, romance and whimsy, however, the end result is far too ridiculous and cheesy to benefit her resume.
Cruz plays Magda, a recently laid off teacher who lives with her football-obsessed young son, Dani (Teo Planell). She is separated from her professor husband since he cavorts with his female students, but the eternally cheery Magda has apparently made peace with his philandering and leads a content life.
After a routine self-examination sends her to the doctor, Magda is told she has advanced breast cancer and needs to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. Having not quite processed the news, she goes to watch Dani play in a match and sparks a conversation with a Real Madrid scout named Arturo (Luis Tosar). He suddenly receives a phone call informing him that his wife and child are in hospital following a serious car crash. Magda rushes him to the emergency ward and, over the next few days, the pair comfort each other as they deal with illness and death simultaneously.
Their emotional support evolves into a romantic relationship and soon Magda, Arturo and Dani become a family unit of their own. But, since this is a shameless melodrama, Magda’s health takes a turn for the worse, throwing them for a loop.
Ma Ma‘s faults lie firmly with the script and not the performances. Cruz, in particular, is luminous and engaging. The Oscar-winner rises above the tearjerker material and gives the film a much needed anchor. Planell and Tosar help with nice supporting turns.
Unfortunately for the cast, the weaknesses in the story are too glaring to ignore. For one, Ma Ma is strangely devoid of women despite Magda’s central presence. Are there no other female patients getting treatment? Where are her mother, relatives and friends? Also the focus on cancer is rather superficial with Magda never really expressing anger, frustration or grief, instead she jokes around with her handsome, singing gynaecologist (Asier Etxeandia).
On top of that, director Julio Medem’s jarring tonal shifts, including frequent use of a CGI throbbing heart and odd dream sequences, render any attempt at subtlety useless.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
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