May 29, 2016 09:00 PM EST

Penelope Cruz Shows a Different Side In Ma Ma

Penelope Cruz Shows a Different Side In Ma Ma
I haven't seen enough foreign films to know if they are all vastly different from the independent films made in America but Ma Ma is certainly unique.  A Spanish language movie starring and produced by Penelope Cruz (Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), it has an interesting perspective on an all too familiar topic.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure it actually works.
Magda is a mid thirty, independent, single mother whose partner has abandoned her for any one of his younger students.  As she struggles with the loss of her job and her significant other she is dealt another blow as she discovers she has stage three-breast cancer.  Determined not to leave her son, Dani (Teo Planell, Family United) she is resigned to chemotherapy and the loss of her breast. 
Arturo (Luis Tosar; El Nino) is a scout for Real Madrid who feels Dani has great potential as a futbol player.  Unfortunately, Magda is present when Arturo gets the news his daughter is dead and his wife is in a coma.  Through their mutual tragedy they form a friendship that strengthens their resolves and ultimately leads to loves.
The best part of this film is the cast.  While I'm not particularly a fan of Cruz, this is one of her best performances.  She alternates between hope and despair in such subtle tones that she takes us on Magda's emotional journey with her.  Tosar, while decidedly too old for Cruz's Magda, he is emotionally available as well and helps the audience feel his pain, grief and adulation.  Planell has a maturity beyond his young age and does a good job with the heavy subject matter.
Unfortunately, the story is bogged down with too many elements.   There are so many micro chasms of relationships that are never fully fleshed out and so they don't completely make sense.  Magda's and Arturo's relationship seems to go from zero to sixty 1.2 seconds and the audience doesn't get the sense of a romance between them.  Also Magda and Arturo's relationship with her Gynecologist, Julian (Asier Etxeandia; Velvet) seems almost inappropriate and intrusive by American Standards.
I'm sure there was some symbolism behind the story of Julian's pending adoption of a Russian girl named Natasha but it wasn't readily apparent what that was and I didn't get it.   I also felt Director Julio Medem (7 days in Havana) got a little lost, adding elements, like the beating heart, that were distracting and didn't fit the whole film. It made the scenes choppy and disrupted the flow.
The movie ultimately ends up telling the story it sets out to tell and takes the audience on one woman's journey through despair, love, pregnancy and, in the end, death.  It tugs at our hearts and makes us grab for the tissue box.  In that sense, it is successful but sadly, in the end it just doesn't completely work.
Grade: C-

About Allison Skornick-Rose

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