Penelope Cruz is a wonderful actress. The Academy Award winner has more brilliance in a tuft of her luxurious hair than most of us have in our whole bodies. She is able to transcend genres at easy – performing evocatively in dramas such as Volver, chillingly in thrillers like Abre los Ojos, and is able to populate comedies such as Grimsby and Zoolander 2.
Now she returns in melodrama Ma Ma.
Ma Ma revolves around Magda, a young mother who is diagnosed with cancer on the same week she leaves her job and her husband absconds with student. Ever the optimist, she is determined to fight it whilst keeping news of her illness away from her son. At a football match, she encounters Arturo, a scout for Real Madrid. During their conversation, he finds out that his mother and daughter have been in fatal car crash. Unbeknownst to Magda and Arturo, the tragic events that fall upon them both end up entwining their lives for the better, but could tragedy strike again?
Penelope Cruz bares her soul in this traumatic yet evocative piece on cancer, death, life, and love. As the story unfolds, Magda envelops a fervent and earnest spirit that seems determined to live whatever remains of her life she has left to the full. By passing on her youthful tendencies and generous heart to those around her, she instigates a similar response in the audience. Her performance is visceral and chipper without teetering into this cheesy, over-the-top performance. You evolve with Magda and feel each of her emotions as she grasps days, seconds, and moments with such a spirituous nature. Cruz utterly envelops the screen and you are irreversibly drawn to Magda as a character and a heroine.
Directed by Juilo Medem, Magda’s story is encumbered by stunning visuals that juxtapose different times of her life as the film lurches forward a year. Beautifully enhancing the story, Madem and cinematographer Kiko de la Rica, use different palettes to develop emotion. The vivid heat and beauty of Spain contrasts against the stale and pale whiteness of the hospital. At points you understand the echoing colourless of death or dying and that allows Magda’s rambunctious nature to live and celebrate the vibrant world that she is in.
This being said, there are corny elements here that could simply be removed from the film with a fine editing polish. The subplot with the Siberian girl waiting to be adopted by Magda’s doctor Julien and the image of the blonde haired girl invading Magda’s subconscious seems too outlier to fit into this tale. Moments such as a CGI’d heart denoting the beats of specific moments equally takes you away from the pivotal drama and adds a layer of cheapness to an otherwise brilliant film.
Whilst Ma Ma is an exaggerated depiction of the fight against breast cancer and has a contrived moments in it, there is a lot of emotion and tenderness to take away. It certainly sees Penelope Cruz in one of her finer moments, grasping the energetic and determined Magda by the husk of her talent and allowing the story to soar on screen. It’s just a shame that the film lingers too much on soap opera or ludicrous moments.
MA MA IS OUT 24th JUNE