Ma (2019)

TATE TAYLOR

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5USA, 2019, Screenplay by Cinematography by Produced by , , Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by ,

has moved to the small town where her casino waitress mother () grew up, and almost immediately makes new friends, a group of likeable youngsters who do the usual small town fun: joyriding in one kid’s dad’s van and finding remote place to do some underage drinking. Trying to actually get alcohol while still a teenager is a challenge, so they hang around outside a liquor store until a vet clinic nurse () agrees to buy them drinks. This seemingly cool older lady agrees to do it more than once and then, in the name of promoting safety, starts inviting her new friends to hang out in her basement where she throws wicked parties with great music and food.  Ignoring the odd bit of erratic behavior from this stranger, the teens are unsuspecting of the mounting clues that the audience is privy to, that Spencer is not actually there to be an indulgent older sister but is actually plotting out a vengeance that we learn, thanks to flashbacks, is years in the making. A great cast is a boost to this sometimes juicy but mostly overwrought thriller that gives Spencer so much room to create a full-bodied character that she somewhat tips the film’s balance in the wrong direction: she’s so three-dimensional that it’s sometimes hard to know if you’re watching a revenge thriller or a sympathetic melodrama, throwing as much Annie Wilkes as Dee Dee Blanchard into an uncomfortable mix.  Tate Taylor tries to take So Bad It’s Good trash seriously and directs Strait Jacket as if it was Mildred Pierce, resulting in the audience being too much on the villain’s side since her reasons for what she does turn out to be quite justifiable, which means there isn’t the juicy fun of seeing her get what’s coming to her in the end after having endured far too sluggish a third act (and more than a few jarring plot holes, like the fact that Lewis went to high school with Spencer but doesn’t recognize her soon enough.  As a result, Lewis and Allison Janney get to have the most fun despite Spencer’s giving just as robust a performance as they do.

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