‘Materna’ Review: Mommy Issues – The New York Times
In “Materna”, the first feature film by David Gutnik, four anguished New Yorkers are linked by an incident in the subway involving – surprise, surprise – an unbalanced man (Sturgill Simpson). More subtle and more concentrated than interwoven and grandiose dramas like “Crash”, he is interested – as the title indicates – in motherhood and mothering: the anxieties linked to pregnancy and the education of children; the guilt and frustrations born of generational breaks.
The film’s four sections recount the events that led to each woman’s arrival in the same wagon, and the explosion that took place there is repeatedly viewed from each’s troubled headspace.
Jean (Kate Lyn Sheil) is a VR artist whose mother constantly harasses her to freeze her eggs; Mona (Jade Eshete) is an actress who struggles to connect with her mother, a Jehovah’s Witness; Ruth (Lindsay Burdge) is a wealthy stay-at-home mom whose young son, she is convinced, is persecuted by her school’s political correctness agenda; Perizad (Assol Abdullina, who is also co-author with Gutnik and Eshete), travels to his native Kyrgyzstan after the death of a relative and spends time with his mother and grandmother.
The story of Perizad, carried by the weary but inquisitive gaze of Abdullina, reaches an emotional content that the previous vignettes lack, weakened as they are by the dialogue – and the text messages – which precisely announce the stakes.
Each section, however, leaves its mark: Jean’s story turns to sci-fi horror when artificial insemination takes on a strangely literal meaning; the naturalistic camera work gives Mona’s animated sessions with an actor coach a delirious intimacy; and the tension between Ruth and her ideologically opposed brother (Rory Culkin) erupts into a gripping, though predictable, sketchy dramatic confrontation.
If only their bond was more. As it stands, the glue that binds these women of different ethnicities and origins together reads like a failed attempt to make more ambitious meaning of individual stories already full of possibilities.
Unclassified. Duration: 1h45. In theaters and available to rent or purchase on Apple TV, Google Play, and other streaming services.
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