“Ma” has provided me with an interesting experience. For the first time in a good while, I found a movie that left me short on words. I sat on this viewing for about a week, desperately trying to muscle my way through my writer’s block before I finally rallied up the gall to tell you people my opinions. I only want to deliver a quality product to the adoring masses, so I hope you can understand the struggle and why I chose to delay this review until I could live up to my own standards.
If I could describe “Ma” in one half-assed sound it would be “bleh”. The first 2/3 of this film are so boring, it should almost be a criminal offense. The problem is that the story focuses so heavily on Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her friends, instead of the only compelling aspect of the film, Sue Ann, AKA ‘Ma’ (Octavia Spencer). Bear with me for a second as I try to muster up an appropriate analogy for these kids… Blander than the love child of gluten-free rice cakes and a beige cardigan… Yeah, that feels about right. They all have a combined ONE character trait, which is that they enjoy a splash of the devil’s nectar. But, if the meme accounts I follow on Instagram have taught me anything, it is that drinking and smoking are not actual substitutes for a personality. Sorry to break the news to you kids. They are a collective absent of any redeeming qualities aside from their immaturity, which, if I am to be frank, makes it really difficult to root for them over the supposed villain, Ma.
I have recently been engaging in a rather tedious debate with a close, personal friend of mine (No, it is still not Tom Skerritt) over my totally justified and accurate ranking of Octavia Spencer as the 5th best actress in film right now. He claims that not only is the ranking wrong, it is an egregious though to even consider her there. While this person actively chooses to be a clown with his objectively wrong opinions, Octavia keeps getting work and delivering great performances, even in subpar projects.
Octavia absolutely carries this film, salvaging some watchability out of this potential Ambien replacement. She spreads her wings into the horror genre and proves she has the range to succeed in a variety of different tones and genres. Ma is threatening, sympathetic, sinister, and charismatic. Sue Ann seems to be a nice woman, harboring so much pain and resentment from her childhood, and ‘Ma’ is essentially personality born out her desire to lash out at those who wronged her. It is unfortunate that the filmmakers decided to treat her as a supporting character, rather than the lead because the film would be so much more compelling if the story was about her, rather than some stupid teenagers’ interactions with her. Her backstory is not really complex enough to warrant treating it like a mystery, and instead they should have been more upfront with it, allowing for ‘Ma’ to have more screen time as the monster the previews presented her to be. Once the third act gets underway, ‘Ma’ really shines as a psychotic killer, but it is a sloooooooooow burn to get to that point.
The saddest thing for me is that I was really excited about this movie, even in the oversaturation of film releases going on now. It was certainly one of my most anticipated films of the early summer, but it just failed to amass to any of my expectations. “Ma” would work more as a hyper-absurd after-school-special about underaged drinking, bullying, and talking to strangers. Maybe if it took itself less seriously, it might be believably funny on purpose, and perhaps present an actual message of some sort. As it is, the only parts worth watching are ‘Ma’s’ scenes and there aren’t enough to really justify buying a full-priced movie ticket to see it.
I would give “Ma” a gluten-free 5.0 out of 10
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Starring: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown, Tanyell Waivers
Runtime: 1 Hour and 39 Minutes