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"Maria Full of Grace"

Directed by Joshua Marston.
Written by Joshua Marston.
Starring Catalina Sandino Moreno, Yenny Paola Vega, Guilied Lopez and Patricia Rae.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  8/2/04


My friend Julie "Kickass" Simon sent an e-mail to me and many of her friends to talk up the new indie "Maria Full of Grace" since she knows a member of the production crew.  That, and she thought the film was pretty good, too.  Julie's review, along with a lot of positive buzz since it opened in July, drove me and my buddy Yac to the local indie house to check out the new subtitled production (sorry, Ross).

In Colombia, flower de-thorner Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is facing a couple of major dilemmas.  For starters, she is working long hours at the flower mill, making wage and having to turn most of her monies over to her family of what seems like 15 people.  The job is no good, and this makes her time out of the "office" all the more stressful...especially when the film opens, as Maria and her boyfriend deal with an unexpected pregnancy with all the maturity of a couple of 17-year-olds, which is what they are!  Faced with her own issues, and continuing poordom, Maria enlists with a friend named Franklin (John Alex Toro), who knows a guy that might be able to help Maria out.  All she has to do is transport illicit drugs to her gut, as a mule for a drugrunner.

The best thing about "Maria Full of Grace" is the primary subject matter; when it details how harrowing the experience is for women trying to smuggle drugs via their stomach into the US, this is a great, tense, superb film that you definitely have not seen before.  I had never really visualized what it might be like for a person to swallow inch-long baggies of coke and keep them stored in their stomach for ten hours before dumping them out...and, in this flick, we get the whole nine yards.  From the way drugs are brought over, to the plight of those that are caught up in such a business, the film's first 60 minutes are amazing in teaching you about the sad, seedy business that these women in the picture (and somewhere in real life) get themselves into.

There is a fantastic sequence mid-film as Maria gets hung up at security when landing in the States; it's well-written, it's well-acted, it's realistic, it's everything...there was a great crowd reaction in my theater when that sequence was over, as every single part of it seemed to be perfect.  So, it came as a surprise when almost every moment after Maria gets to New York is so...blah!  Ordinary.  As Yac said afterwards, it's like the film was suddenly just...fine.  It lost the driving force of its narrative when it became a film about Maria just hangin' out in Queens, living amongst the locals, no love interest, just her annoying friend Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega) to keep her company.

I'm sure that, had I not taken a two-hour nap earlier in the day, I would have fallen asleep during the last half-hour of "Maria Full of Grace", since there's really not much happening for a while, and then it just kind of ends.  For the film to start so strongly, this was a major disappointment.  The acting by Moreno and Patricia Rae as Carla was quite good, but then you mix in that damned Blanca and maybe looks-wise the funniest unintentional comedy of the year, Don Fernando (Orlando Tobon), who looks just like a modern-day Jabba the Hutt, and you are left with strong leads but not much else.  This is good as a $6 flick, but paying more than that will make you sorry...

Rating:  Matinee


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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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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