Review: Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar reunites with two of his luminous screen muses, Penelope Cruz and Rossy de Palma, for a slow-burning and melodramatic portrait of parenthood. The Oscar-winning filmmaker has repeatedly explored the tangled relationship between matriarchs and children in his stylish and sensual work, most gloriously in his 1999 comedy drama All About My Mother, which navigated life after premature death through the gift of organ donation.
In the aptly titled Parallel Mothers, Almodovar revisits some of his favourite themes with characteristic flourishes but he also leafs through one of the dark chapters of his country’s history during the Spanish Civil War. Politics and personal trauma are slowly exhumed from layers of Almodovar’s simple yet effective script, providing Cruz with another complex, emotionally demanding role that veers into unexpectedly discomfiting territory as telenovela plot mechanisms whir into place with a palpable erotic charge.
Men are largely absent, some by cruel circumstance rather than choice, but not all women are model custodians. The daughter of one errant mama, a glamorous actress who has prioritised her career over domestic responsibilities, says that the only lesson she has learnt from her mother is to “live my life and be free.” Almodovar’s heroines in Parallel Mothers follow that selfish credo, occasionally to their detriment, but when they stumble and fall, they defiantly dust themselves off and do not instinctively reach out a hand for a man to help them to their feet.
Photographer Janis Martinez (Cruz) meets charming forensic archaeologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde) at a shoot and she seeks his advice about excavating a Spanish Civil War mass grave close to her home village. Arturo has a wife undergoing chemotherapy for her cancer but he is attracted to Janis and they sleep together. Soon after, she falls pregnant and chooses to raise the child alone without Arturo’s involvement. Before Janis gives birth with support from her magazine editor best friend Elena (de Palma), she befriends pregnant teenager Ana Manso (Milena Smit) and her mother Teresa (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) at the hospital.
Janis and Ana deliver daughters on the same night, Cecilia and Anita respectively, and agree to keep in touch as they embark on journeys as single mothers. Months later, tragedy unexpectedly brings the two women closer but Janis has an ulterior motive for wanting to hire Ana as a live-in au pair for baby Cecilia that will test their sisterly solidarity to breaking point.
Parallel Mothers hinges on a classic soap opera contrivance but Almodovar mines genuine tears and pain from the fallout. Cruz and Smit are well matched as their characters’ relationship ebbs and flows, acknowledging their beautiful imperfections in a world that holds carers to impossibly high standards. Failures litter every parental journey. Learning from them is the key.
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Review: Second albums can be notoriously tricky but the energetic sequel to Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet’s 2016 computer-animated musical achieves the same feat as Queen, Nirvana, Adele, Madonna and Carole King by delivering a follow-up that trumps its predecessor. In the case of Sing 2, the bar was not set disconcertingly high. The first film was an achingly predictable race to save a theatre from foreclosure by inviting anthropomorphic creatures great and small to compete in a singing contest. Jennings and co-director Lourdelet have learnt from some of their previous mistakes to deliver a crowd-pleasing but narratively simplistic follow-up that preaches the same messages of unity and courage to a soundtrack of Prince, Shawn Mendes, Coldplay, The Struts and U2.
It’s exceedingly sweet fare with sporadic giggles courtesy of an ageing iguana with an ill-fitting glass eye, who serves as the perfect paintball target in the sequel’s most snort-inducing interlude. Aside from scene-stealing reptilian antics, Jennings’ script milks gentle laughs from obvious targets and shamelessly plucks heartstrings by addressing grief at surface level. Like the digitally rendered critters on screen, Sing 2 overcomes its shortfalls and occasional awkwardness to encourage parents to tap their “tippy toes” as children overdose on candy-coloured visuals.
Enterprising koala Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) hosts sold-out shows at the New Moon Theatre in Calatonia starring his resident troupe of critters: Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) and dancing pig partner Gunter (Nick Kroll), gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton) and elephant Meena (Tori Kelly). The bear impresario invites talent scout Suki (Chelsea Peretti) from Crystal Entertainment to appraise his reworking of Alice In Wonderland. She walks out during the first half: “You’re not good enough. You’d never make it in the big league.”
The koala is crestfallen until his mentor, retired sheep diva Nana Noodleman (Jennifer Saunders), inspires Buster to have “guts, stamina, faith” and gate crash Crystal Entertainment’s auditions in Redstone City hosted by arctic wolf CEO Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale). Porcupine punk rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson) reunites with the gang for the try-out but Crystal is unimpressed until Gunter pitches the idea of a sci-fi extravaganza that would woo lion rock star Clay Calloway (Bono) back to the stage after a 15-year hiatus. Crystal gives Buster three weeks to realise Gunter’s outlandish fantasy. “Do not do anything to make me look bad or I’ll throw you off the roof,” snarls the wolf.
Sing 2 dances to the same tune as the 2016 film but with greater gusto and more polished animation on the slickly choreographed song and dance numbers. A subplot which “forces” shy teenager Meena to kiss an older egotistical co-star during a love duet strikes an uncomfortable note but Jennings and Lourdelet navigate a minefield of their own making to the melody of Dionne Warwick. For that, we say a little prayer too.
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