Review by Sean Boelman
With a career that has spanned more than thirty years, Pedro Almodóvar is one of the most acclaimed Spanish-language filmmakers of all time. His newest film, Parallel Mothers, is yet another starring his frequent collaborator Penélope Cruz, and unsurprisingly, he again guides her to one of the best performances of her career.
The film follows two mothers who give birth on the same day as their lives become unexpectedly intertwined. Most of Almodóvar’s film’s are melodramatic, almost feeling like a better-made telenovela. It’s very twisty, and while the plot points are on the predictable side, the filmmaker’s skill makes the film resonant nevertheless.
One of the drawbacks of the film is its pacing. All of Almodóvar’s work requires a great deal of patience, but this one takes even more time than usual to reveal its hand. Part of what makes it frustrating is that the audience knows exactly where the film is heading, and yet it tries to play it off as a surprise.
Furthermore, the film doesn’t really connect all of its pieces until the final act. The first two thirds are compelling, but leave the viewer wondering exactly why they are watching it. And then the last thirty minutes is exceptional, tying everything together in a way that is enormously profound. The final image of the film is without a doubt one of the finest of the year.
The film does a very good job of building the characters in a way that is fascinating and complex. One of Almodóvar’s strengths is that he takes these stories that seem so ridiculous and makes them feel extremely human. Even though the characters don’t always make the most likable decisions, the audience still sympathizes with them.
The absolute highlight of the film is Penélope Cruz’s performance. Each of the three acts calls for something very different from her, and she pulls off all of them while making it feel like a cohesive performance. And her chemistry with junior actress Milena Smit, who also holds her own, is excellent.
On a technical level, the film has Almodóvar’s usual style of hyperrealism to the point of looking artificial. It’s this constant fluctuation between the real and the fake which drives both the story and its execution. And the cinematography by José Luis Alcaine is exceptional, especially during the more symbolic second half.
Parallel Mothers might be one of Almodóvar’s weaker works to date, but even his lesser attempts are still thoroughly impressive. It’s worth watching for Penélope Cruz’s turn if nothing else, as it is extraordinary in every sense.
Parallel Mothers is now playing in theaters.