Academy Award winning filmmaker Pedro Almodovar knows how to get touching, powerful and vulnerable performances out of his actors, especially when said actor is Penélope Cruz. "Parallel Mothers" ("Madres paralelas") is their SEVENTH film collaboration, and Cruz gives one of the year's best performances, helped tremendously by the fact that Almodovar's astute script is nothing short of enthralling. It might just land him his second Academy Award for screenwriting (he previously won in 2003 for "Talk to Her") as well as a fourth total nomination for Cruz.
In lesser hands, "Parallel Mothers" could have been a fluffy, preposterous melodrama. But instead it's one of the most surprising and fully authentic stories of the year. His characters are fully-realized and their choices come naturally and with sometimes horrific consequences.
As the title suggests, Cruz plays Janis, one of two mothers who give birth on the same day. Janis is a successful photographer, and the father of her child is someone who she isn't committed to long-term. In the hospital, Janis meets a younger mother, Ana (an equally impressive breakout performance by Milena Smit), and the two decide to keep in touch after giving birth.
The twist and turns of the plot carries the bulk of the intrigue with this film, so I'm being careful not to spoil too much of what happens next. Janis and Ana find connection in some truly unexpected ways, and their journeys are wrought with pain, triumph and struggle. Janis's path in particular leads to a broader story dealing with some unmarked graves of Spanish freedom fighters, introducing themes of legacy and identity into the fold.
It's a potent mixture of elements, and "Parallel Mothers" somehow works even if upon second-glance, the over-arching structure might seem to be manipulative. It isn't, in any way. I hope people find "Parallel Mothers," and may the forceful pairing of Cruz and Almodovar never decelerate.
Run Time: 2 hours 3 minutes.
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Israel Elejalde, Rossy de Palma.
Written and Directed by Pedro Almodovar ("Pain and Glory," "Volver," "Bad Education," "All About My Mother").
"Parallel Mothers" is in theaters on Friday, January 21st, 2022.
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