My History With the Film:
I saw the Ma trailer quite a bit in early 2019 and I was quite excited about Octavia Spencer portraying a psychopath. I didn’t make it out to the theater opening weekend, and the reviews were pretty rough from what I heard. I decided to wait and watch it later when I found it on streaming, and one Sunday afternoon I turned on HBO and there it was.
What The Film Is About (Non-Spoiler):
A lonely woman entertains a group of high schoolers and becomes obsessed.
What I Liked About It:
-The film attempted to be a modern day Misery and in some ways its accomplishes that such as creating a psychotic character who you empathize with. If any actress could pull off a Kathy Bates style performance it would be Octavia Spenser, sadly the story just wasn’t good enough to make this a super memorable role.
-Octavia Spenser was fantastic, as was Luke Evans (Ben), the younger cast was less impressive and since they ate up a lot of the screen time I think this hurt the quality and flow of the film.
-The use of flashbacks was well done (I’m a guy who hates flashbacks) and I think slowly unraveling the events of Ma’s high school days helped explain why she did what she did. This allowed the audience to feel empathy for her, while simultaneously cringing at her. The film dabbled with mental illness and I would have loved for it to have been brave enough to label Ma with an illness or two and then allow her to go out of control.
-The ending was decent, but I feel like it could have been better. The body count wasn’t high enough considering all that went on in the last twenty minutes and I feel like the filmmaker was afraid to push the envelope. This goes back to my theory that they were attempting to make a thriller like Misery with horror elements, but were attempting to be “above” the horror.
What I Didn’t Like About It:
-The casting of the high schoolers was weak. None of them were memorable and I couldn’t even tell you their names. I think a smaller group of kids might have worked better, or possibly some different casting.
-Like a lot of modern movies, the trailer spoiled way too much. The twists and turns were all revealed in the trailers and this really ruined the movie watching experience for me.
-I wish the film would have committed to making Ma a completely psychotic woman by the end. There was too much restraint by the end. I understand keeping her empathetic through the first 2/3rd of the film, but if they took her gloves off in the final 1/3 I think we would have gotten a much better film.
-Octavia Spenser (Ma) and Allison Janney (Dr. Brooks) worked with director Tate Taylor on The Help.
-Luke Evans (Ben) and Allison Janney (Dr. Brooks) worked with director Tate Taylor on The Girl on the Train.
-Both Octavia Spenser and Allison Janney have won Oscars. Juliette Lewis (Erica) was nominated for an Oscar. And Tate Taylor directed, wrote, and produced The Help which was nominated for Best Picture.
Ma is a worthwhile watch if you don’t expect much. It’s not a bad way to spend a couple hours, but it certainly won’t be a memorable time. There is nothing frightening about Ma and instead I think you’ll leave frustrated, realizing how much story and potential they failed to capitalize on.
I’d rate Ma a two out of five and say its low priority rental.