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"All About My Mother"

Directed by Pedro Almodovar.
Written by Pedro Almodovar.
Starring Cecilia Roth, Marisa Peredes, Antonia San Juan and Penelope Cruz.
Release Year:  1999 
Review Date:  2/13/00


Ahh, the blow-off.

C'mon, everyone, sing with me if you know the lyrics:

“Hey, Justin, real sorry and [my girlfriend/boyfriend] can't make it tonight; watching TV right now, don't want to get off of the couch.”

“Hey, Justin—really wanted to go to the club, but I just don't have the money to spend $10 on cover.  Instead, I'm gonna go out and spend $40 on drinks over at [Cap City Brewing Company/Coupe's/the Fratmore/the local pub].”

“Hey, Justin—where are y'all going tonight?  Let me know and I'll meet you there later, but if I don't see you...have a cool time!”  (chances of meeting up while out:  4 in 27)

“Hey, Justin—sorry I couldn't come over to your place last night...I lost your three phone numbers, directions to your place, all of our mutual friends' phone numbers and your e-mail address, so I couldn't let you know last night.  My bad, dude.”

There was a time in my life when I thought my actual, God-given name was “blown off,” because I made it look so easy to get blown off so regularly.  And, make no mistake:  this happens to everybody, I am definitely not special in this regard.  The number one thing I value in a partner, more than any other thing:  reliability.  And, many of you have been victims of some of the attacks I put on people when they do blow me off...never pretty.  There is absolutely nothing worse to me than when I make plans with someone, and the day of the event, I get *that* phone call.  You know the one:  “Hey _____, listen, I can't....”, and all you hear after that is “words, words, words...word words, word word word words.”

All of this brings me to the point of today's review.  In a week where “Scream 3”, the number one box office movie last weekend at $35 million, beat the OTHER NINE MOVIES IN THE TOP TEN COMBINED by $2 million, I decided to head off of the beaten path and see the latest Pedro Almodovar film “All About My Mother.”  But, I almost blew off my friend Gabi by not attending the show in Dupont Circle this afternoon because I had been driving all day from Charlottesville to DC, DC to a basketball contest, b-ball to Fuddrucker's, Fuddrucker's to home.  However, I remembered how I felt the last time I was blown off, by my good friend Laura “Salsa Queen” Wilber (normally, highly reliable), who not only skipped out last Thursday night to our planned trip to Eighteenth Street Lounge, but *the very next night* went to the lounge without me:  as low as low goes.  Remembering that feeling (and, knowing that I needed something to review this week and not wanting to be *that guy* in Gabi's mind), I made it out, and my-oh-my, was it worth it.

Almodovar's other films, including “Tie Me Up!  Tie Me Down!” and “Live Flesh,” have been much lighter in tone—and much heavier in sex—than his current film.  But, the drama in “All About My Mother” more than makes up for this, as the director takes an intriguing, emotional setup and turns it into a gripping portrait of a woman recovering from the loss of her only son.  The setup:  Manuela (Cecilia Roth), an apparently separated mother of a 17-year-old son in Madrid, is just getting to really understand what makes her son work—and vice versa—when he is tragically killed in an accident after watching a revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in Madrid.  Deciding that returning home to Barcelona would be best for her, Manuela reunites with a transsexual (Antonia San Juan) that was a good friend of hers when she was living in Barcelona full-time and embarks on a new life.  What follows is at times absolutely hilarious and absolutely devastating, and there are some turns in the story that make it interesting down the stretch.  Roth is unbelievably good, and for the first time in a while, I felt like an actress really captured the emotion of a person that had just lost a loved one...every time a supporting character makes mention of Manuela's son, she gets understandably emotional and defensive about talking about her lost son.  This carries through all of the main characters, including Rosa (the crossing-over-to-American-films Penelope Cruz), whose plight in the movie is eerily similar to Manuela's journey, and Huma (Marisa Paredes), a middle-aged lesbian actress that works on the “A Streetcar Named Desire” theater set and hires Manuela to be her personal assistant.

And, the language on this film!  Let's admit it, we of the American persuasion aren't treated to many different versions of the word penis in our movies, but this movie breaks 20 by the halfway point.  This makes for some pretty funny dialogue...for some people.  There are times during this movie where you will be both laughing and asking yourself, “I wonder if I should be letting everyone in the theater know that I think blowjob discussions are this funny.”  Just a word of warning.  But, the comedy in this movie all seemed to work for me, and Almodovar changes speeds so well during the course of the movie, it's no wonder that this film has already won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and is the favorite to win the Oscar in the same category next month.  And, again, the acting in this movie is absolutely superb, and it came across even better to me because as a non-Spanish speaker, I have to rely more on expressions and body Spanish than the subtitles running across the screen.  Solid stuff.

Were there problems?  I thought the ending was played out a bit too fast, and so much takes place in the final 15 minutes that I thought Almodovar could have slowed it down a bit to let the weight of it all hit me a bit softer; there are three different events taking place at the end, and it wouldn't have hurt to take a few more minutes of screen time to explain the impact those situations had on the respective lead characters.  But, the storylines themselves were well resolved and all the situations made sense to me, so I can only complain so much.  There is no music to speak of throughout all but the second-to-last scene of the movie; again, fine by me, but it only would have helped to set the mood in my opinion.

But, highly recommended, and I would love to see this movie get nominated for Best Picture, too.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09