Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: All About My Mother (1999)
I hate this film. It’s garbage. It’s rank, tedious garbage. I have no idea why this is so highly acclaimed, because in all honesty I put this effort by Spanish pervert Pedro Almodovar on the same level as Eastenders, and I don’t watch that bollocks either. In many ways, All About My Mother (release date 27th August) is the quintessential Almodovar, combining pompous meta-fiction with the sensibilities of a melodrama. Featuring a strong female lead, a cast of supporting freaks, and endless bloody scenes of women talking drivel at each other, if All About My Mother had a decent nudity count (only 1 solitary jugg sighting, and that’s early on) then this really would be the only Almodovar that anyone would ever need to watch. Unfortunately, I’ve now seen it twice, and while I didn’t hate it as much this time, I can’t say I liked it at all. Mrs. Jarv, annoyingly, had forgotten the whole damned movie from first viewing, so kept asking stupid bloody questions, which made the whole experience even more depressing.
Contains the worst adaptation of Streetcar Named Desire ever filmed and spoilers below
Meet Manuela (Cecilia Roth). She’s a nurse in an intensive care ward, and a single mother of difficult and pretentious teenager Estaban (Eloy Azorín). He’s torn because he doesn’t know his father at all, for very good reasons, and simultaneously has ambitions to be a writer. On his birthday, he nags Manuela to take him to see Huma (Marisa Paredes) performing as Blanche Dubois in Streetcar Named Desire. Unfortunately, it’s the most drastically rewritten version of Streetcar that I’ve ever seen- I am very, very familiar with this play, by the way, and have an awesome anecdote about it that I’ll share below. Anyway, he bullies his mother into waiting with him afterwards to try to get Huma’s autograph, and is very unfortunately splattered by a car. This prompts Manuela to return to Barcelona, and rediscover her roots. Falling in with transsexual hooker Agrado (Antonia San Juan) and fallen nun Rosa (Penelope Cruz), Manuela hijacks the production of the play and the film sinks into a miasma of melodrama and tedium.
Man, this film is boring. Seriously, staggeringly boring, and it has managed to induce a state of utter apathy in me. I’m struggling to finish this review now.
Basically, I don’t understand why anyone likes it. Yes the acting, particularly from Roth is first rate, but it’s just a fucking soap opera in a different language. Look at the climax of the film: Rosa dies during Childbirth, so Manuela decides to take care of the child. Lola (Estaban’s father) a junkie transvestite with boobs turns up, except it turns out he’s dying of HIV. They have a big emotional reunion, then blow me down if two minutes later the kid has miraculously cured himself of the virus. How is this not sub-Telenovella level drivel? Seriously?
As is the way with Almodovar, All About My Mother is a glorified melodrama that if you remove the sordid character types from would be just a typical lifetime movie of the week. In this case, the parade of freaks that meander across the screen hits depressing heights. Seriously, there isn’t a “normal” character in the film, and even minor ones have irritating and unnecessary character traits/ occupations. Rosa’s mother, for example, forges Chagall pictures. Why is this necessary? Rosa herself, actually, is a perfect example of this- she’s a nun that shagged a tranny and is now up the spout, and as a result failed to go to El Salvador. Just to add the cherry to the icing on the cake, she’s also got AIDS. How is this not ridiculously implausible and totally over the top?
The parade of freaks here, actually it is almost a cavalcade of freaks, becomes tiresome and depressing, and listening to Manuela tell stories about men with tits, or a male cast member try to get a blowjob from Agrado (this is gross and unnecessary) with the offer of sucking him/ her off in return, or the gigantic ball of irritation that is Nina’s heroin habit, just becomes wearying. I don’t care about these characters because they are so far grounded from any concept of reality that I am familiar with that they are absurd caricatures. It doesn’t matter how luminous Cruz is (very), because Rosa is a fucking cartoon. Roth can try to eke out sympathy, and at least she has some credibility in comparison, but that’s fucked by the next scene having us watch a packed theatre listen to Agrado’s monologue on being “authentic”, and I’m jarringly reminded that Manuela is part of an elaborate deception in a Barcelona that even Dali would abandon for being overly surreal.
I’m actually reminded of the spoof Team America Rent song here- almost every fucking character has a ludicrous problem and as the climax of the film hits I half expect them to burst into a rousing chorus of “Everyone has AIDS”. Manuela, I suppose is the most balanced, but it doesn’t matter, because she just meanders about imparting wisdom such as “you shouldn’t have had sex with Lola, he’s been shooting up Heroin for 15 years”. Incidentally, she can’t possibly know this, as she left him to go to Madrid 18 Years ago. Furthermore, it’s this kind of shitty sensationalist writing in the film that gets me down- why can Manuela not offer sympathy to Rosa without telling a story from her life that’s laughably flimsily masked? Oh, so “your friend” married a man with tits about 20 years ago and ran a bar in Barcelona did she? You sure that’s not you? Really? Oh, do fuck off.
Overall, All About My Mother is shit. It’s nowhere near as bad as I remembered it being, and Cruz and Roth are really, really first rate in it. However, I don’t watch soap operas in English, and have no truck with melodrama on this scale, so I think it’s an absolute waste of time, energy and some good acting. There’s so much I can be rude about- the introduction of All About Eve at the start of the film, or the painful bastardisation of Streetcar, but it’s sapping my will to live, so I think I’ll stop. I was going to Orangutan of Doom it, but Roth and Cruz really are very good and as a result that’s totally unfair. Instead it can have 1 disturbing tranny bugs bunny out of a possible 4, and I don’t want to think about it any more.
That’s the last Almodovar over with (can I get a Hallelujah? No? Fuck you all then), and he really must be the most overrated director working.
Until next time when the truth was out there…
The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux:
- 2011- The Skin I Live In (2.5 out of 4)
- 2010- The Last Exorcism (2.5 out of 4)
- 2009- Post Grad (1 out of 4)
- 2008- The House Bunny (1 out of 4)
- 2007- Knocked Up (1 out of 4)
- 2006- Volver (1 out of 4)
- 2005- Red Eye (2 out of 4)
- 2004- Dead Clowns (Orangutan of Doom)
- 2003- Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (1 out of 4)
- 2002- Talk to Her (4 out of 4)
- 2001- Jeepers Creepers (2 out of 4)
- 2000- Gossip (1 out of 4)
- 1999- All About My Mother (1 out of 4)
- 1998- The X-Files
- 1997- Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion
- 1996- The Last Supper
- 1995- The Usual Suspects
- 1994- The Color of Night
- 1993- Surf Ninjas
- 1992- The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag
- 1991- Pump Up the Volume
- 1990- Wild at Heart
- 1989- Bull Durham
- 1988- Crossing Delancey
- 1987- The Big Easy
- 1986- Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
- 1985- Better off Dead
- 1984- Oxford Blues
- 1983- MetalStorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn
- 1982- The Thing
- 1981- Honky Tonk Freeway
- 1980- Schock
- 1979- Rich Kids
- 1978- Coma