Alfonso Cuaron achieved great success and received abundant acclamation for directing the Oscar-winning film Gravity back in 2013. Aside from the film rightfully winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, Cuaron took home the hardware for Best Director as well. Since then, the world has been waiting for Cuaron’s follow-up project in hopes that it too will wow audiences everywhere and be the next masterpiece in Cuaron’s growing catalog.
Now, fast-forwarding to 2018, Cuaron gives us Roma – a flashback film telling the story of two women looking for a fresh start from heartbreaking situations in 1970 Mexico City. Cuaron has said that the film is a semi-autobiographical story of his own life growing up in Mexico observing as a child his maid’s perseverance through her burdens.
Unfortunately, if I was Cuaron’s maid, I would be more insulted by my depiction in the film than flattered.
Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, comes off as a quiet and dull individual who, quite frankly, is awful at her job. Several scenes show sloppy rooms, a dirty kitchen (not to mention her washing dishes with no soap in sight, which actually drove me crazy), and constant dog poop in the driveway, even though she is told to clean it up multiple times. To her credit, though, where Cleo fails as a maid, she flourishes as a babysitter and caretaker, which would explain Cuaron’s intent.
Roma’s side story focuses on Sofia, a mother of three children who is trying to keep her family afloat while her husband is away. It all sounds good, right? Well, except for the fact that Cuaron gives neither heroine any sort of character depth whatsoever. The events in the story are easy to draw sympathy from the audience, even empathy from those who may have gone through similar situations to those of both Cleo and Sofia in their own lives. However, there is nothing more than what is shown at the surface to either of them, or anyone else in the movie for that matter.
That’s not my only issue with Roma, though. My other problem with the film, and really my main gripe, is the fact that it’s just boring. I absolutely loved Gravity, and I really appreciate Cuaron’s cinematic visions, so I became extremely tense fifteen minutes into this movie when I had a prophetic vision of me being highly disappointed two hours later when the film is over. Films obviously are supposed to get better as they go, and without naming names, I’ve seen films recently that literally have the last twenty minutes be its saving grace.
Sadly, I had that painful, unfulfilling realization when my earlier vision came to fruition – the closing credits came without me seeing any plot development and subsequently gaining any sort of satisfaction. I waited patiently for further events to come out of the “main events” of the film, but these events just never came.
After seeing Roma and reading other mostly positive reviews from critics, I feel like this film is one that is popular to like. What I mean by that is, it’s a film that people say they loved because they feel like that’s what they are supposed to say. Critics piggyback other critics’ positive opinions, which makes the public feel like they have to like it as well or they could potentially have a serious case of FOMO (for non-Millennials, this means Fear Of Missing Out).
I don’t know how to be anything other than honest, which is why I will tell you Roma is highly overrated. To put it in perspective, I thought last year’s award season was weak, which is why a solid, but far from classic The Shape of Water won the Oscar for Best Picture. With that said, I believe The Shape of Water is overall a more solid, and most importantly, more entertaining film than Roma.
I still appreciate Cuaron’s direction and cinematography, but I think Roma comes up way short of its potential. It ultimately is a very hollow film masquerading as an Oscar contender.
I know this movie will still get several award nominations, and even take home some victories along the way (which is reflected on my Oscar Scale). I am aware that Netflix, the producers of the film, and various critics are trying to sell the narrative that Roma is “powerful” and “groundbreaking.” I would simply ask “how?” Because it takes place in Mexico and is about a Mexican woman? Because it is a foreign language film shot in black and white?
I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say nothing in Roma is original. Roma isn’t horrible, but what it is is a grey film with confusing, strange scenes that lack both character and plot development while leaving you unquenched.
MATTER RATING: 5.5/10
OSCAR SCALE: 8/10 (Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Original Screenplay, Editing)
BY: CHRIS GUEST