I had one goal for this weekend. I was determined to finish my Oscar viewing, or rather knock the “Best Picture” nominations off my to-see list.
I failed, and I failed hard.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was no problem. I wasn’t looking forward it, but I liked it. I think I might even add it to my Amazon wish list so I can view it again one day. That just left “Roma.”
So, the film has received rave reviews. It’s got a 96 on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, and critics all say it’s amazing. And, then there’s me.
Maybe I’m a heathen. Maybe I’m uncultured. Maybe I’m a millennial whose attention span is too short. Maybe the world should revoke my membership card to Movie Critics R Us. But, I hated it. Worse than that? I couldn’t even finish it.
I made it about an hour into the film, saw I wasn’t even halfway there and sent an SOS to fellow Weekend scribe Steve Wildsmith, asking for leniency. No, it’s not his section anymore (he also freelances), but I’m a creature of habit. Steve declared I had suffered enough and would still have plenty to write about.
Netflix’s website describes “Roma” as a “vivid, emotional portrait of a domestic worker’s journey set against domestic and political turmoil in 1970s Mexico.” While the film’s black-and-white aesthetic was a stark contrast to what we see in modern filmmaking, the camera’s clarity was the only vivid thing I saw. And, while some “emotional” moments were going to be coming in the second half of the movie, they surely weren’t found in the first half.
Alexander Cuarón’s film is slow. Very slow. It follows the journey of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) as she goes about her daily duties as a maid. Her duties are shown in detail, often with no dialogue. She may go in a room to do something, and the camera just points at the door she went through. There’s no motion and nothing happening, but the camera doesn’t pan away until Cleo comes out the door, only to go in another.
Mundane tasks are shown, and there’s some interaction between her and the family who employs her. There are even moments that interest me, mostly little exchanges she has with the children. But, when the film spends cinematic time showing the excruciating process the patriarch of the family goes through to park his car or time is spent watching Cleo scoop dog poo, run water on the area and then use a broom to sweep away any residue, I struggle, y’all.
This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled with a Cuarón film. His 2014 “Gravity” also left me underwhelmed. (For the record, he won the Oscar for Best Director that awards season.) Again, people thought the movie was ah-mazing, while I was kinda bored. However, compared to “Roma,” that one was a thrill a minute.
Cleo’s life does take some interesting turns as the movie progresses. I looked up the plot on Wikipedia, just to see what I was missing. FYI, it wasn’t a lot. The film is supposed to be this poignant look at a young Mexican woman’s life of servitude. I understand that. Cleo’s story is one of simplicity. She serves a family she loves. She has a boyfriend who’s a jerk. And, her life goes on. Nothing that happens in her life does anything to change who she is. At the end of the day, she will do her mundane tasks, love the family she serves and her life will go on.
Maybe that’s just Cuarón being poetic or something. After all, how many of us have life-changing moments? We get our heart broken, change jobs or worse yet: lose someone we love. No matter what life throws at us, life goes on.
Here’s the thing: I understand this is meant to be an in-depth, simplistic look at Cuarón’s own personal story. Rotten Tomatoes calls it “enthralling” even. I understand the beauty behind the film, and maybe Cuarón did something amazing with “Roma.” I’m glad he was able to use his craft to create something that meant so much to him.
But, here’s the problem: Life has a lot of stress in it. There’s never quite enough money, a litter box always seems to be full, and the world is filled with not-so-nice people. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, privileged, sheltered, or all three.
For me, media such as a book, movie or TV show are an escape from the world. They can be exhilarating, happy, pensive or sad. I’m not exactly a one-flavor kinda person. However, I do enter a theater — or in this case, my living room — with one request: Make me feel, something, anything that connects with me on a real human level. Spending two hours watching a woman clean up dog poo, do dishes or enjoy a naked man pretending to be Bruce Lee isn’t my idea of a cinematic experience. It’s prosaic and mundane. As I said that’s all well and good, just have something to say about it.
For me, the best films are a cathartic experience. I use them to feel joy, laugh or even cry tears I’ve been needing to shed. A film that leaves me feeling nothing but boredom isn’t one that I can recommend.