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‘Ma’ (review)

Produced by Jason Blum,
Tate Taylor, John Norris

Screenplay by Scotty Landes, Tate Taylor
Story by Scotty Landes
Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis,
Diana Silvers, Luke Evans, Missi Pyle,
McKaley Miller, Allison Janney

 

Unnaturally hued nacho cheese, overly sappy soap operas, the majority of Snapchat stories — we know its trash, but it is also delicious and satisfying in its badness.

Ma is a new edition to this list as a movie with a sloppy storyline and gaping plot holes, but reasonably elevated with a strong performance from Octavia Spencer in the titular role and supporting work from Allison Janney, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans, and Missi Pyle.

It is the kind of dumpster fire that is more mesmerizing the longer you peer into the flames.

Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her mother Erica (Juliette Lewis) have moved back to the gray rural town in Ohio that Erica had fled after high school.

While she works long shifts at the local casino, Maggie makes new friends that have a penchant for trouble. While trying to get an adult to buy alcohol for the teens, they strike gold in Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) who not only buys them booze but after a few times invites them to party at her house and call her “Ma”.

Well, as long as they obey a few simple rules. As things get stranger and more awkward at Ma’s house, the teens try to disengage. But relationships can’t be ended so cavalierly in Ma’s world, and the teens come to find that there is something incredibly dark about their newest maternal friend.

To think that this film comes from the same director who helmed The Help and Get On Up is a testament to the diversity of the cinema. For Tate Taylor to go from films roundly loved by critics and audiences alike to something that would be lucky to get a Razzie is no small feat.

The pacing of the movie drags through setup and flies through her psychotic break, and it seems that all direction was given to the powerhouse women that were cast while the teenage main characters — so bland that they may have been plucked from background scenes in Pretty Little Liars — were given more lines than they’ve had in their careers up til now but no help on how to deliver them.

And above it all, Spencer shines with her friendly nature, knowing smile, and bloodthirsty vengeance-driven rampage. It would be simple to make this a sad sack character with little depth but she manages to flesh out the skeletal script to the point that you feel for the way Sue Ann has been treated. It is easy to see her as deeply flawed and in pain rather than simply criminally insane. That’s an important line to tow in this kind of dark revenge-of-the-nerds dark horror movie and Spencer brings her A game to a B list movie with gusto.

As the lead doe-eyed teen, Diana Silvers barely makes an impression and her whole crew is rather forgettable in the face of their stronger acting parents. Spencer leads them as a sickening Pied Piper with the promise of free alcohol and no supervision, and when the teens finally balk at this middle-aged woman trying to hang with them her revenge is swift and tied to the injustices of her own adolescent life. The teens have no idea what kind of adult they are dealing with, and the chasm of acting ability between Spencer and the young protagonists make it even more absurdly mesmerizing.

This movie will be talked about, rewatched, and discussed many times not for its merits, but for the strangely high amount of entertainment value in its deficits.

Ma is a deeply flawed but pretty enjoyable romp through several well-worn tropes, and a sinister view of Octavia Spencer I would not mind having again.

 

 

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