Saturday, September 14, 2019

Movie Reviews: Ma

directed by Tate Taylor
This is a horror film. But maybe that description might give you the wrong idea. 
It's as much a thriller film as horror. There are relatively few jump cuts used. Those that do show up are few in number until the film's final third in which there is some reversion to the mean in well known and overused effects.

There is nothing supernatural, no magic box that appears in the mail, no one who looks exactly like a family ancestor who's been deceased for two centuries, no inheritance of a heretofore unknown family mansion, no seductive slender woman or man who only is seen at night. None of that is to be found in this movie.

This movie was in part created because the primary female lead, Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer, wanted to do something outside of the typical maid or mammy asexual roles which she normally plays. This film was definitely different from her normal roles, I'll say that for it. How successful it was? Well I thought it could have been better, especially in the way the ending was built.

Ma asks us if people are born monsters and if the scars of past harms ever truly heal. Some people hold grudges longer than others. That's just human nature. Some religious traditions call upon us to forgive those who trespass against us. Others reject forgiveness and seek retribution. A lot of pop culture and pop spirituality states that seeking revenge, holding grudges and refusing to forgive all harm the holder of the grudges far more than the original aggressor. 

In this worldview the healthy and wise thing to do, putting aside morality for the moment, is to forgive your enemy and stop letting him or her live rent free in your head. 

People who disagree with this point of view would retort that they can't forgive anyone until the person has stopped the offensive behavior, apologized or made restitution and taken steps to prevent the misdeed from occurring again. Erica Thompson (Juliette Lewis) is a newly divorced mother who is moving back to her hometown. Things just didn't work out. 

Erica doesn't have a lot of money or a lot of education. Right now the best job she can find is a cocktail waitress (complete with fishnet stockings) at the local casino/hotel. A woman's got to do what a woman's got to do. Erica is happy to have her high school aged daughter, Maggie (Diana Silvers) with her. In some respects Erica treats Maggie more as a younger sister than a daughter. By the way, Silvers is very well cast. She and Lewis have a certain resemblance. Watching Juliette Lewis, whom I mostly remember as playing underage or otherwise young women with certain reputations, play a mother of a high school teen is another unwelcome reminder to me that time moves on for us all.

Well there's apparently not much to do in this podunk town other than drink. Of course high school students aren't allowed to drink but Maggie and her new friends aren't going to let a little thing like federal law stand in the way of them getting wasted. Maggie has serious goo-goo eyes for Andy (Corel Fogelmanis). 

Andy's father, Ben (Luke Evans), is a local big shot. Ben runs a successful security business, something which allows Andy to use one of his Daddy's trucks for mostly unsuccessful liquor runs. The group of kids hangs out close to the liquor store and tries to get adults to buy alcoholic drinks for them. This doesn't work until Maggie and Andy are able to convince a harried veterinarian's assistant Sue Ann (Spencer) to get them what they need.

Well the party is on. Before long Sue Ann has convinced the friends, and lots and lots of other kids to have frequent drinking parties and similar fun in her basement where she knows they'll be safe.  Sue Ann tells the kids to call her Ma. Sue Ann only has a few rules and a few quirks. She also might have goo-goo eyes for Andy, something that Maggie and her new best friend Haley (McKaley Miller) notice with unease. Worse, once Ben finds out where his son is hanging out, he orders Sue Ann to stay away from his family. Or else. There are some flashbacks to help the viewer understand some things.

I thought the film's final portions were a little cliched. Spencer's role could have even been meatier but she did a great job with what she had. All in all this film didn't quite bring enough scares in my opinion. But it did raise (and answer??) a lot of the questions mentioned in this review's third paragraph.
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