• Jared Huizenga

Cruz, Smit Take ‘Parallel Mothers’ to Greater Heights

Two women, separated by seemingly everything other than the due dates of their babies, form an unlikely bond and take center stage in director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest drama ‘Parallel Mothers.’

 

Ana (Milena Smit) and Janis (Penélope Cruz) in ‘Parallel Mothers.’ (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

 

Janis (Penélope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit) star as the two women who find themselves in very different, yet somehow very similar, places in their lives.


Janis is middle-aged, while Ana is just a teenager. Janis is a successful photographer with an apartment in the city and her familial home in the country, while Ana splits time between her divorced parents.


Both, however, are very pregnant and very single; Janis after an affair with a married archeologist she enlisted to help her unearth the hidden Spanish Civil War grave of her great-grandfather and other murdered men from her village, and Ana by way of a classmate. Janis is ecstatic to be a first-time mother; Ana is terrified.


The soon-to-be mommies/hospital roomies form a quick and deep bond that will weave them in and out of each other’s lives over the next several months and (presumably) after the on-screen story ends.

 

Ana (Milena Smit) and Janis (Penélope Cruz) in ‘Parallel Mothers.’ (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

 

It may not sound like it (with several key plot points removed for the sake of spoilers) but the story, written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, is actually quite clever and intriguing. At least in premise. In execution, however, it feels a little flat at times, perhaps lacking importance or consequence, and with subplots that are made to feel important at the time but are never actually fleshed out and don’t deliver anything in terms of story payoff.


Thankfully, Cruz and Smit make you forget the little loose ends here and there and the plot devices that don’t actually do much of anything. The duo brings their complex characters to life – they’re strong and independent in moment and frightened and vulnerable the next. Each has people that are in and out of their lives to help when they can, but they find comfort in the unlikely bond they’ve formed and the on-screen chemistry between the two is palpable.

 

Penélope Cruz as photographer and new mother Janis in ‘Parallel Mothers.’ (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

 

It’s a tough year for Best Actress, with names like Lady Gaga, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Hudson, Olivia Colman, and Kristin Stewart expected to compete for Oscar gold, but it would be a shame if Cruz’s name isn’t included when nominations are announced February 8. The same could be said about Smit, but she might lack the name/track record to garner a nomination.


My initial thoughts on ‘Parallel Mothers’ when I saw it in late December were outstanding lead performances, interesting and deep story, and incredibly intimate cinematography by José Luis Alcaine.


Obviously, my thoughts now remain the same on the actors, and I remain impressed by Alcaine’s work. The story, however, didn’t age as well in my memory, so I backed off my initial 4-star score.


That said, it’s still worth a watch, if for nothing other than Cruz’s performance.


★★★1/2 of ★★★★★