ROGER THOMAS FILM REVIEW: ‘Ma’ has a few good moments, but not enough

Published 10:37 am Thursday, June 6, 2019

“Ma” is the latest film starring Octavia Spencer.

Spencer has done some fine performances over the last decade and I always look forward to her work. Three of her films have garnered Oscar nominations for her and one “Oscar” win.

Roger Thomas

In 2011, she was nominated for a “Best Supporting Actress” for the film “The Help.” She went on to win that “Oscar” at the ceremonies in 2012. “The Help” was about domestic help in the homes of others.

Five years later, in 2016, Spencer was nominated again. This time the film that caught the Academy’s eyes was “Hidden Figures.”

Spencer starred in that film as a woman who worked for the budding space program and the early age of computers.

One year and one film later, “The Shape of Water” came to theaters. Spencer got a third Oscar nomination.

Though Spencer did not win an acting award in either “Hidden Figures” or “The Shape of Water,” Spencer was in the cast of the Best Picture “Oscar” winner of 2017: “The Shape of Water.”

“Shape of Water” was a different kind of “Best Picture,” but all of Octavia Spencer’s films that have been nominated for Oscars are much better than the film I am reviewing today: “Ma.”

“Ma” was nothing like I expected. It is not often that I say that of a film, “I thought it was frightening, funny or thought-provoking.”

Instead, for me, it was “Why? Why was this film made?”

First, there is the plot. The film is about a woman who works as the assistant to a veterinarian.

She does not have a happy life it seems, but she has more problems than just happiness.

As the plot unrolls it is revealed that this middle-aged woman, played by Spencer, likes to be around teenagers.

In fact she likes them so much, that she invites and encourages them to come to her house and have parties in her basement. And one can imagine what types of parties she throws for them.

Actually, she may or may not like the teenagers as the story unfolds.
I will not go too deep into the plot because a paying customer, even a customer watching a bad film, deserves the right to its revelations.

However, as a parent, I feel I should write that there is a lot of material about teenagers’ choices of fun and mischief, and it could inspire other youth if they see the film.

We, adults, know how much peer pressure can effect minors and others. This film uses peer pressure as one of the most frequent plot-points.

There are also twists and teasers. All of those are not successful, but some work better than others.

However, from the trailer I thought the film would have many jolts. Or at least some. I have written that I like to get scared in the theater and I do. I never got a jolt in this film. It just was not that kind of film.

One other thought about the film is that besides Spencer, there is only one other actor I recognize.

And I am surprised she signed up for this film.

Oscar-winning Allison Janney plays the veterinarian who is the boss of Spencer’s character.

Both these ladies have greater talent than is needed for “Ma.” I used to watch Janney for seven years on “The West Wing” and recently she won an “Oscar” for “I, Tonya.”

With all the talent these two ladies have, Spencer and Janney should be above a film like “Ma.”

And for that matter, the young actors, who play the central teenagers in the film, should find better scripts as well.

Hopefully this summer will offer much better films as we go forward.

Roger W. Thomas of Albemarle reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.