Mia Madre: O So-So Mia, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Grief for a dying family member can be a challenging thing. One must cope with their emotions while carrying on the trials and tribulations of their normal day to day life. Taking care of a relative who was once vibrant goes steadily downhill, their once cogent memories adrift in a sea of madness. It’s a hard chapter in anyone’s life. Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre tries to illustrate this by veering between scenes of broad comedy and tender drama. This structure makes the whole flick a little tough to swallow.
Margherita (Margherita Buy) is a director making a film about a workforce going on strike when their factory is being taken over by a larger company. In the midst of making this movie, she struggles with caring for her dying mother Ada (Giulia Lazzarini). Complicating the film shoot is American actor Barry Huggins (John Turturro) who flubs his lines and is prone to losing his temper on the set. Margherita struggles with focusing on her movie because her mother is always on her mind.
By far, the best scenes in the picture involve Margherita taking care of her mother. There’s a real gentle nature to these scenes and a sense of sadness as we watch Ada’s mind and body go downhill. The scenarios detailing the challenges of filmmaking are a different story altogether. Played for broad comedy, they feel like something from a different film. Perhaps adding bursts of levity to a dour subject is the point but it’s a very schizophrenic viewing experience. Just as you are settling into watching a gentle dramatic scene, you are jolted by an overlong sequence of John Turturro doing his James Cagney impression while cackling at the film crew over a few late night cocktails.
Of all the performances, special mention must be made for Giulia Lazzarini as the titular mother. Her truthful performance captures the frustration of a bed-ridden, ailing family member with a raw intensity. The other acting is fine, although John Turturro lays it on a bit thick as the American actor Barry. His bombastic performance feels as if someone waltzed on the set kicked over the craft services tables just for grins. He goes for broke, but this isn’t exactly an early 1990s Jim Carrey comedy we’re dealing with here.
Although Mia Madre’s peculiar combination of pathos and pratfalls didn’t work for me, it can be an interesting film at times. Go in with muted expectations, and you might be surprised.