Parallel Mothers

By Joanna Langfield

Pedro Almodovar’s melodrama is a full bodied toast to motherhood, the good, the bad and the oh so complicated.

Two seemingly very different women are giving birth at the same time in the same hospital room. While Janis is older and thrilled to be a first time, single mother, Ana, a scared teenager, is traumatized. You might think you know just where their stories are going, but just you wait. There are twists, turns, revelations and complications. We laugh at some, are surprised by others. Much of it, like the Spanish soap operas on tv, is florid and told with great flourish. And damn if I didn’t find myself choked with emotion at the film’s finale.

Almodovar, of course, has always been fascinated with the subject of motherhood and he dives deep here. Like another current release, the beautiful C’mon C’mon, this parallel tale acknowledges the humanity of parenthood (and the parent adjacent as well), admitting the simultaneous mix of devotion, confusion and frustration.  A terrific Penelope Cruz continues her muse-like relationship with the filmmaker, bringing both a grounded intelligence and touch of zaniness to the maze-like proceedings. And Milena Smit, as Ana, is a wonderful addition to the company, bringing a very assured performance of a quite unassured (or is she?) young woman.

While the production is impressive, what is almost most notable here is the commitment to style. Melodrama, I must confess, is not my thing. But I can’t help but admire Almodovar’s dedication and appreciation of it. He truly goes for it, wringing the most out of all the high drama of the story. And, while there were moments when I found myself thinking “oh, come on”, there were far more moments when I, completely engaged, thought “oh, bring it on!”